A COUPLE who run the only charity in the UK that provides a home for victims of human trafficking are asking churchgoers to provide temporary accommodation for thousands of survivors.
Helen and Jared Hodgson’s charity Hope at Home has 14 host families so far, but they estimate that they need about 1000.
The couple first went to India, where they worked with street children, and met girls who had been trafficked into the sex industry. When they came home, they moved to a bigger house so that they would have spare rooms for those who had been trafficked.
The need for safe places for those rescued from modern slavery is huge, Mrs Hodgson said. At any one time, the Global Slavery index estimates that 136,000 people being trafficked into the UK. People are trafficked into the sex industry, domestic servitude, and to work in nail bars, agriculture, and car washes, among many other industries.
Some 5145 were rescued last year by police and other agencies, figures from the National Crime Agency show, but, once they have left the temporary safe house that they are initially sent to, many survivors face destitution, and are vulnerable to being retrafficked.
“They risk being made destitute as they can’t claim benefits, though they may be entitled to accommodation,” Mrs Hodgson said, “but, for very vulnerable people, this accommodation is often not suitable. We had one guest who was put into a mixed-sex bed-and-breakfast with no lock on her door: she was traumatised, and it wasn’t suitable for her.”
Mr and Mrs Hodgson piloted the scheme for three years in their own home, in Bromsgrove, before launching the charity and taking in several survivors. One of them, Sarah (not her real name), stayed with the couple and their three boys for a year.
Sarah said: “The people in the host family made me feel very comfortable. They tell me they love me — I’ve never heard this before in my whole life. Now I can do things I was scared to do before: I can go out, and I don’t lock myself away.
“Before I moved to the host family, I tried to kill myself because I felt so lonely. The biggest thing I received from them is love; they give me more than love, more than words can say.”
The charity is particularly looking for host families in Sheffield, Bristol, and the West Midlands, where it has strong relationships with partner agencies who can support survivors and their host families; but it was also crucial, Mrs Hodgson said, that the whole church community to which a host family belonged could offer support.
“We want to know they are from a supportive church community which can pray and support them as they open up their homes. What we want from hosts is a big heart and a spare room: they don’t need to be able to offer professional support, other than provide accommodation.
“Often, if the host is working full time, some one in the church can be around for the survivor, take them out for a coffee, which is why it important that there is a supportive Christian community which the guest can part of.”
The charity is also looking for volunteers to help build relationships with churches around the country. Prospective host families are given training by the charity in responding to survivors, and also how to look after their own emotional needs.
One host, Anna, from the West Midlands, said: “It was lovely to be able to offer our home and friendship to our guest, but the amazing extra thing with Hope at Home is that we were also able to share our trust in God and link with church. We knew there were people in our church praying for us and our guest, and I also had the opportunity to share that, even in chaos, there is hope and a loving God.
“Our guest hasn’t gone on to a resolved situation where she can be free and start to live. She might be free from her traffickers, but she is still a victim of the UK asylum system, and the trauma, fears, and uncertainty that that brings.”