BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Erie County is now taking new steps to stop human trafficking countywide and a major part of its goal is to protect children.
The District Attorney's office, along with several of the county's police agencies, has now teamed up with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services to create the "Safe Harbor" program as part of Erie County's Human Trafficking Task Force and the International Institute of Buffalo. The program provides county social services the resources to provide support and services for child trafficking victims, including case management, emergency temporary housing, health care, mental health counseling, translation services and permanent housing assistance.
County leaders say last year alone, "Safe Harbor" served 115 trafficked and at-risk minors in Erie County, roughly two-thirds of which were in the county's welfare system.
"This is a legitimate issue in our community that I'm proud that we've been addressing for some time," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz during a press conference Wednesday. "But unfortunately we still have to hold press conferences like this because it still goes on."
According to the county, children who are the victims of human trafficking often do not have any personal items other than the clothes on their backs when they are found. So the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) also donated 75 "Hope Bags" to the county's Human Trafficking Task Force; they contain clothes, shoes, toiletries and snacks to help survivors meet their basic needs when they're found. The bags are meant to supplement the resources the International Institute of Buffalo already provides.
To learn more about the IIB's services or to report a possible human trafficking case, you can either call the International Institute of Buffalo’s Trafficking Victim Services line at (716) 883-1900 extension 323, or call Buffalo Crime Stoppers at (716) 867-6161.
If you'd like to support the ational Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s “Hope Bag” project, click here.