- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A St. Paul housing shelter for teen victims of sex trafficking and exploitation is closing, just months after opening.

The nonprofit Breaking Free is shutting down Jerry’s Place in mid-March, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/1ESb9ZB ).

Vednita Carter, Breaking Free’s founder and executive director, posted a letter Feb. 4 to the group’s website addressed to supporters.

“Breaking Free received less than half of our original request from the Safe Harbor housing program to support Jerry’s Place,” she wrote. “This funding does not allow us to maintain the number of staff needed to ensure the safety and well-being of the young residents in the house without utilizing staff members from our women’s and permanent housing programs.”

Breaking Free’s original two-year request for shelter and housing funds from the Safe Harbor Minnesota program was for $531,420, and the state awarded it $256,000 for that period, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The department sent the group an award letter in September 2013, DHS said, and Jerry’s Place opened last October.

Breaking Free’s director of development, Emily Baldwin, on Monday cited licensing and staffing issues as well as housing restrictions. The shelter needed more than one qualified, trained staff member to be with the shelter’s residents around the clock, Baldwin said, and the funding did not allow for it.

“It’s not just about spending the money and hiring the staff. It’s about finding staff who have the unique ability to work with youth” who are victims of sex trafficking, Baldwin told The Associated Press. She said the 18-year-old organization still will have four beds in its system dedicated to girls who are sexually exploited.

Jerry’s Place was intended to house four girls at a time and is currently home to a 17-year-old and three 16-year-olds, said Katie Tuione, Breaking Free’s housing director. They are working with the girls’ families to reunite them or to find other housing, Tuione said.

The home was named for St. Paul police Sgt. Gerald D. Vick, who was fatally shot during an undercover operation in St. Paul in 2005. Vick was known for his efforts to combat prostitution and sex-trafficking.

Ken Vick, Jerry’s brother, said the family was sad to hear about the closing.

“It was very exciting when it opened because it was near to Jerry’s heart. He used to talk about creating a house for runaway kids or kids from the street who were in trouble,” Ken Vick said. “But I can understand it, if they don’t have the funding for it.”

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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com


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