Vista Maria announces plans for new human trafficking treatment center

By ZEINAB NAJM
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — Vista Maria, 20651 W. Warren Ave., announced it will build a new treatment center to provide treatment and housing for human trafficking victims by 2020.

The Aaron and Helen L. DeRoy Stabilization Treatment Center will cover 14,000 square feet of the organization’s 37-acre campus at the cost of $4.6 million.

Vista Maria president and CEO Angela Aufdemberge said the treatment center will provide housing and treatment for 16 girls to double the organization’s current capacity. Also, an emergency intake wing will allow Vista Maria host and give services to three adolescent girls at once.

Aufdemberge said a small scale trauma response center will have mental and physical health professionals in one location ready to aid the girls with a focused approach.

“We began planning for the new center in 2017,” Aufdemberge said. “The design is based on feedback from law enforcement and forensic science professionals, child protective services and the attorney general’s staff. We gathered feedback from various out of state child advocacy center professionals as well as emergency care.”

In 2017 Vista Maria served 50 girls under the age of 16 in its Wings Program and in 2018 served 60 more through the same program.

During a press conference held on Jan. 11, International Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Aufdemberge also said 1,200 females have been identified as being sex trafficked in southeast Michigan.

“Through our research and work with law enforcement and the department of health and human services we know that expanded capacity to serve more female victims will aid law enforcement raids and rescue operations as well as end the wait for treatment,” she said.

FBI Detroit Supervisory Special Agent Michael Glennon said the Southeast Michigan Trafficking and Exploitation Crimes Task Force rescued 239 child victims from exploitation and made 269 arrests last year along with currently working on 121 federal cases in the region.

He also said he was eternally grateful for all the work Vista Maria has done and that him and Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Ed Price have involved with the organization for over 15 years.

He said trafficking has changed “significantly” in the 15 years he and MSP Detective Sgt. Ed Price have been battling it.

“We have seen a migration that has shifted from the traditional tracks in the street onto more of the online portals such as Backpage and Craigslist and now we’re seeing another shift to more application based platforms,” he said. “There is a significant threat within in our area. Our operations intelligence estimate that there’s about 35 children that are being trafficked within the tri-county area of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne on any given day.”

Vista Maria has raised $2.4 million of the $4.6 million cost with the help of grants and foundation support. The center’s name comes after a $750,000 grant from the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation.

Other grants included a $500,000 forgivable loan from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis, a $500,000 from the McGregor Fund and The Carls Foundation each and support from the Abhi Shah Foundation, NorthRidge Church, Seed Foundation and Vista Maria board members.

Vista Maria was founded in 1883 as an orphanage by the Sisters of Good Shepherd with a mission to deliver innovative care, support, treatment and education so that vulnerable youth can heal, believe in their worth and build the skills needed to succeed, according to the organization’s website.

Aufdemberge took the time to read a quote from a 16-year-old who has gone through the treatment program at Vista Maria.

The 16-year-old said she was sexually, mentally and physically abused by her father for six years before she was removed from her home and in and out of foster care homes. After the 16-year-old ran away from her last foster home she ran into an older man who later asked her to have sex with a friend to get money for a car note. The sex requests became more frequent when the 16-year-old ran away and continued to have sex for money. She was rescued in November 2017.

“Since I have been here, I have learned that there are a lot of people that are out there going through the same thing as I have,” Aufdemberge read from the 16 year old’s quote. “Being rescued and getting help at Vista Maria has shown me how strong I truly am, all I can say is that I am stronger than I was before. I need this world to know, you have a voice, it’s okay to set boundaries and stand your ground.”

Vista Maria Associate Manager of Volunteer Resources Becky Herman said last January 2018 she hopes with fundraising for the new treatment housing facility that a medical wing, police room, detox center and bedrooms would be available for victims in the same place.

In addition to the human trafficking program, Vista Maria also cares for 150 girls annually who have dealt with abuse, are taken by child protective services or may be disruptive.

“We care for girls from ages 11 to 24 years that sometimes come from the court system along with others within a six- to nine-month time period at our facilities,” Herman said last year. “Vista Maria has two charter schools so girls can get an education while seeking treatment in our programs.”

After girls leave Vista Maria they are either reunited with their families, including immediate or extended; placed into foster care training; or live independently with help while they get a job or attend school.

“We provided the skills, schooling, work options and apartment for girls who are ready to live on their own,” Herman said last year. “There is also a program for girls that want to get jobs and live independently but have a cognitive impairment.”

For more information on Vista Maria call 1-800-784-7826 or go to www.vistamaria.org.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)