SEP 23, 2020 AT 3:54 PM

A newly-renovated shelter for survivors of human trafficking opened its doors in Seminole County Wednesday, bringing what advocates say is a desperately needed safe house for those who escape a life of physical and psychological torture.

“I have a list of people waiting to get in,” said Jill Bolander Cohen, founder and CEO of The Lifeboat Project, which operates four homes in Central Florida where trafficking victims can seek refuge and get help to restart their lives. “But now we need funding. And I know everybody is hurting right now, but we absolutely need funding to give those survivors a chance to heal and rebuild.”

The shelter — an aging four-unit, 4,200-square-foot condo building — was renovated with the help of fellow nonprofit HomeAid Orlando, which recruits home builders and businesses to increase and improve housing for homeless individuals and families, including victims of human trafficking.

Park Square Homes led the project, donating more than $150,000 in goods and labors, while other suppliers provided cabinetry, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning services, electrical wiring, new appliances, landscaping and furniture. The address for the home is kept secret in order to protect residents from traffickers who once sold them for sex or forced them to work in various industries, including agriculture, for little or no money.

The shelter will provide beds for emergency use when victims are first rescued by law enforcement and for long-term housing for survivors as they get counseling and job training.

“Everything has been donated, and the place is absolutely beautiful,” Cohen said. “But it would be a shame to have this done, and then it’s sitting empty because there’s no funding to run it.”


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