COVINGTON, LA (WVUE) - The operators of a North Shore home for teenage victims of human trafficking said they may have to shut down next week due to a sudden drop in state funding. That will leave dozens of young girls trying to turn their lives around without a secure place to go.
The home has been operating for just over a year. At any given time, up to 10 girls find refuge at Free Indeed, trying to escape the trafficking trap. They need counseling and medical care.
"We are looking at possibly closing in a week or two," said Rafael Salcedo, who with his wife, Beth, run the home which they say is the only licensed, therapeutic group home for teenage trafficking victims in the state. The state relies on their program to help victims through a reimbursement program. But the Salcedos said in the past month, payments from the state have nearly dried up.
"It's been frustrating dealing with these agencies," said Rafael.
For Beth Salcedo the threat of closure is personal.
"It's horrible we have no money for food. We're barely surviving," she said.
Beth worries that girls enslaved by men who make them turn tricks will have nowhere else to turn.
"They will try and run away because they feel they have to. They feel he's the lover, and they fear he will retaliate," Beth said.
At any given time, experts say there are dozens of young trafficking victims on the streets of New Orleans.
The state formerly used a group called Magellan to reimburse providers like Salcedo, but all that changed in the final weeks of the Jindal administration.
Five months ago, the state went from a single provider to five.
"Of the five companies, only one has been consistent in providing coverage for these girls," said Rafael Salcedo.
The Salcedos have reached out to the state for help, but so far, there is none, and that's a concern to the Salcedo's who may have to shut down a home that's making a difference.
"They know that they are loved, and they don't need to live the life," said Beth.
Without a place like the Free Indeed home, Salcedo said trafficking victims as young as 13 will likely be jailed. In many cases, she said their pimps will bail them out so they can go back on the streets to turn tricks.
The home relies on public and private funding to fulfill its mission. If you want to help, click here.
We reached out to the state health department for comment on this problem, but have not heard back.