DETROIT (WXYZ) — "I was like property, a slave," said "Catalina" who did not want us to show her face or use her real name. She's a victim of human trafficking and moved to Michigan about a year ago to start a new life.
Catalina didn't know anyone here or even have identification, but the chance to live a normal life, with goals and ambition, is something she refused to surrender to the criminals who had already exploited her and held her hostage.
"To me, it was a life or death situation," she said. "If I didn't leave, I would be dead."
Catalina is thankful she found so much of the support she needed at Alternatives For Girls in Southwest Detroit - a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless and high-risk girls and women in their transition out of everything, including gang involvement and human trafficking.
Alternatives For Girls has always provided shelter for girls and young women aged 15 to 21, but thanks to a federal grant, they'll now be able to help women beyond that age.
Amy Good, CEO of Alternatives For Girls, says the $500,000 grant is to help women of any age who are victims of human trafficking with housing, including emergency housing.
"Safe secure housing is critical to their safety, to their survival and to their thriving, ultimately," said Good.
The grant money is from the US Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime. And, earlier this week, the DOJ announced that $35,104,338 in grant funding has been awarded to organizations that "provide safe, stable housing and appropriate services to victims of human trafficking."
“Human trafficking is a barbaric criminal enterprise that subjects its victims to unspeakable cruelty and deprives them of the most basic of human needs, none more essential than a safe place to live,” said US Attorney General Barr.
"My heart leaped for joy because I'm one of those displaced persons," said Yolanda, another participant in the programs offered by Alternatives For Girls. "Finding out I would get assistance with housing, I can't even tell you what a help that was."
The grant money will be available on September 1, 2020. Good says they are ready to hit the ground running to help the victims.
Catalina, reflecting on reconnecting with her family, said, "They were just happy that I was still alive."
"It was so scary," she said about being able to finally escape to a place where she could finally find herself. "God was able to get me out of there and I'll never forget that."
If you'd like to help support Alternatives For Girls, you can text GIRLS to 345345. You can also click here to find out more about the organization.