Sanctum House offers safety and new beginnings to survivors of human traffickingThe Nonprofit Journal Project

Sanctum House is a long term residential program in Oakland County for women survivors of human trafficking. We offer 24-hour comprehensive care seven days a week. This includes full medical care, severe trauma and substance abuse recovery, education, life skills, legal aid and job readiness. In our community, we service the whole person, mind, body and soul.

Women come to our safe house from metro Detroit and all over the country. Our network is big and continues to grow. We work with local and state law enforcement, FBI, Homeland Security, county courts, hospitals and substance abuse recovery centers to find those who need this care, as well as the national hotline. As executive director, I’m proud of our reputation for quality of service, and for the healing culture we’ve created since opening three and a half years ago.

Human trafficking is happening everywhere. It crosses all socioeconomic strata. In our program, we’ve treated women from very wealthy families and those who grew up in poverty; women from every race and religion, ages ranging from 18-61. 

The pandemic has caused this crime to go dark. When schools were closed and people stayed inside, it became harder than ever for teachers and others who serve the public to recognize its indicators. The pandemic also limited our work with staff at local hospitals, courts, etc., training people on what to look for and what to do if they feel someone is a victim of this crime. 

We've been fortunate to not have any COVID-19 cases in our house, which are also our offices. The hardest thing for our women has been the isolation, as all of their programming went virtual, and socially, there was little they could do early on. We tried to get outdoors by taking drives and building campfires, but a couple of women still chose to leave, which is always an option in our voluntary program. Our doors are locked from the outside, never from within.

We currently have 10 women living with us, and the capacity for 12. Most will take up to two years to do some serious recovery from what their life has been. In addition to physical and emotional trauma, the majority of women who come to us are struggling with severe drug and alcohol addictions. When they feel they have the inner strength to lead a sober and independent, successful life, we help launch them into that. Each journey is very individualized, but they’re in it together. For some, this is more of a family than they’ve ever experienced.

A big question women here are asking themselves is, who did I always want to be? Some haven’t had the opportunity for education, and we help them earn a high school diploma or GED. Others pursue degrees in higher education, learn a trade or look to start their own social enterprise. As they grow on their paths, they receive more autonomy, coming and going, working jobs around individual and group therapy commitments. 

We have many community partners who make this work possible, including several local universities and colleges. We’re thankful this support continues to increase, even during the pandemic. Our wonderful volunteers continue to find ways to help us with shopping, house maintenance, donation drives and planting and harvesting our large garden. 

Giving back to our community is a large part of our own program, and something we’ve really missed during COVID-19. That’s slowly picking up again. The ladies are working at local food banks and other opportunities, finding value and gratification in helping others. 

We’ve been challenged with funding since COVID-19 hit. Federal and state funding we’ve received for years was diverted toward PPE, and is just starting to come back. Our virtual fundraising has not been as effective as in-person events. We’ve been able to stay afloat because individuals and community organizations have stepped up and helped us survive this. 

We have big plans to grow our healing campus and to expand our staff and services. In October, we’re hosting our Wings of Courage silent auction to help raise money toward this. The event will be held at the Oakland County International Airport, where I’m hoping the large open-air hanger donated to us will provide the space for guests to feel comfortable. 

In my leadership role, I’m concerned with keeping everybody healthy, and with how to keep funding coming in because the need for this long term housing is incredible. There aren't very many programs that provide the comprehensive, integrated care that helps these women survive what they’ve experienced. 

This is the hardest job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some big jobs in my life. But being able to walk with these women, and to help them through their dark days is so rewarding. They've got to go through it all to get to the other side, but when they come out, and they know they’ve been kept safe through the process, all of a sudden, you start to see a different look in their eyes. 

Karen Moore is the executive director of Sanctum House in Oakland County, a safe home for women survivors of human trafficking to heal and rebuild their lives. Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how major social disruptors today are affecting their work--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.