January 31, 2022
Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month is wrapping up, but the work to support survivors is far from over.
Meet Our Team Leader, Sheri
For over 30 years, Covenant House has served survivors of human trafficking; in fact, about 25% of young people that walk through our doors are survivors. Since 2015, Sheri Combs, our Human Trafficking Special Populations Sr. Program Manager, has personally counseled over 700 trafficking survivors, and all of these individuals have access to the services provided by Covenant House (learn more about those services here).
As an expert on human trafficking and survivors, Sheri wishes that people knew more about the presentation of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking can present very differently than what we see in the media. Also, that anyone – any age, gender – is vulnerable to trafficking.”
Of all the services that Covenant House provides survivors, Sheri believes that meeting the survivors’ immediate needs and providing them with a safe place (such as sheltering at Covenant House or safe relocation somewhere else).
It Takes a Village
In addition to the great work provided by our staff, Covenant House believes in a coordinated approach, and we are proud to be the co-founder and lead service provider for the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force (GNOHTTF). We also continuously partner with other agencies, such as the Louisiana Child and Youth Trafficking Collaborative (LCYTC). Learn more about these agencies by meeting some of our key partners.
Meet Jennifer (GNOHTTF)
Jennifer Paul Ray is the GNOHTTF Coordinator at Covenant House and is deeply committed to collaboration in supporting survivors. She first started working in this field at the Florida Department of Health, collaborating with “a multi-disciplinary group of public health managers, physicians, and nurses who wanted to improve the care they gave to trafficking survivors.” There, she learned “that one person can make a difference, and a collaborative can change a system.”
Jennifer has brought that spirit of collaboration to New Orleans. She described the work done by GNOHTTF:
“For the past six years, the Office for Victims of Crime grant that funded Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force (GNOHTTF) provided the monies to support costs associated with the Covenant House New Orleans Crisis Center. The services funded through the grant included, but isn’t limited to: transportation, personal items, client intake, client orientation, education, protection/safety planning, crisis intervention/24-Hour Hotline, emotional/moral support, medical (emergency/long-term) housing, substance abuse treatment, and shelter advocacy, and ongoing case management.
The GNOHTTF strives to eliminate human trafficking from the Greater New Orleans community through the seamless collaboration between law enforcement, prosecutors, service providers and the community at large. We have made great strides at operationalizing survivor services in partner providers, like New Orleans Family Justice Center, Eden House of New Orleans and Jewish Family Services of Greater New Orleans. By doing so, we have built a network where a victim/survivor can seek local services and receive trauma-informed, victim-centered support, stabilization, and access to housing, financial assistance, emotional support, and intensive case management.”
Thank you, Jennifer, for all the work you do for Covenant House and our survivors!
Meet Lugine (LCYTC)
Lugine Gray serves as the Regional Child and Youth Trafficking Coordinator for the LCYTC, a new “partnership and commitment between the Governor’s Office and the Louisiana Child Advocacy Centers to combat human trafficking statewide, support and provide resources to victims and survivors, and hold traffickers accountable for their role in continuing modern day slavery.” Lugine coordinates services for survivors and for individuals at high-risk for trafficking, in addition to facilitating awareness training to schools and nonprofits (read more about his recent presentation at Covenant House here).
Trafficking Response in Louisiana
When asked how Louisiana is unique when it comes to supporting trafficking survivors, Lugine gave this response:
“Louisiana is extremely unique due to its lack of education and abundance of natural resources (oil and gas). Louisiana is also the prison capital of the world meaning that there are more people incarcerated here than anywhere else in America, which has the highest prison population of any nation state.
Louisiana is also a state that deals with historic inequality and lack of community resources for adolescent youth. With that being said, it’s one of two states in the country that has received a Federal grant from the Office of Victims of Crime to support trafficking survivors. This grant established a statewide-initiative called the Louisiana Child and Youth Trafficking Collaborative to combat human trafficking. It also is one of the few states that has the Safe Harbor Laws that protect youth from being criminalized.”
Lugine’s Covenant House Connections
Lugine is no stranger to Covenant House. After he finished a 10-year military career and lived abroad in East Africa, his first salaried position was at Covenant House.
“I specialized in close-quarter combat and wanted to transition into a space where I could provide mentorship and services to the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our community. In my first week on the job I did direct-care services as well as night outreach in the East with Sheri where we handed out resources and info to people in the community, many of whom came in for services the following day.”
Lugine was eventually promoted to a role of Senior Human Trafficking Case Manager.
“Something that will always stick with me is Resilience, a lot of the times it felt extremely isolating as our clients were presented with barriers to pursue their goals and as a case manager we would feel it also. But they never gave up and neither did we.”
Thank you, Lugine, for the work that you do!
Our Impact Beyond Survivors – Educating Future Caregivers
At Covenant House, we know while the daily work we do is vital, we also carry the responsibility of preparing future caregivers for this work. Through our Emerging Leaders in Nonprofits (ELIN) Internship Program, undergraduate students have the chance to intern with us and learn more about supporting youth facing homelessness.
We recently caught up with Bailey, who interned with our Human Trafficking team for several semesters.
“I knew I wanted to intern somewhere that positively impacts the community. Covenant House was an attractive option because it supports an under-served population and reaches many people.”
When asked what she will take with her from her time at Covenant House, Bailey responded,
“I can honestly say that I have learned so much from the Human Trafficking program at Covenant House. The individuals at Covenant House have faced tremendous trauma and challenges, but they continue to work for a better future.
The staff and the residents have such incredible stories, and they are truly inspiring. Many parts of this role can be depressing and draining, but witnessing the strength and resilience that survivors possess motivates me to continue working in this field.”
Bailey recently graduated from Tulane University and will be applying to graduate-level Clinical Psychology programs this year. We know you will do great things, Bailey!
We extend a heartfelt thanks to our Human Trafficking team for the work they do for survivors, all while inspiring tomorrow’s leaders in the field.
This blog post was written by Haley Khoury, Covenant House New Orleans Development and Communication Associate. Much gratitude to Sheri, Jennifer, Lugine, & Bailey for sharing their time, energy & thoughts for this post.