"I just want to go home."
That’s what 18-year-old Veronica (whose name has been changed) said when we asked how we could help. But let’s start at the beginning.
Veronica’s parents divorced, and she followed her stepfather from Maine to Saratoga County. However, that relationship quickly soured and Veronica met men on the street who offered her a place to stay. She started spending time at their encampment in the woods, and quickly made a name as their “party girl,” becoming involved in their lifestyle of drugs and alcohol abuse.
Veronica was being sexually trafficked by the men in the encampment, who would ask visitors at a local gas station if they were “interested in that girl over there.” Well, many men were interested.
Veronica had stayed at the CAPTAIN CHS Youth Shelter briefly, but left on her own and vanished. We knew from our contacts on the street that she was in the area, but she obviously didn’t want to be found. At one point, the CAPTAIN CHS Street Outreach Team received a call that Veronica was being housed in Saratoga for a mental health issue, but she left before we got to her. We hunted for Veronica for over a month – then received a call that she’d been spotted in town. The Street Outreach team jumped in our van and drove to her.
Interestingly, it was Veronica who approached us. Looking tired, dirty and far older than her 18 years, she stated, “I heard I’m on your trafficking list.” We inquired why she was in her current situation and asked if she needed help. That’s when she said, “I just want to go home.”
We can help with that, we said.
Veronica didn’t have a cell phone or any ID, but she did know her mom’s cell phone number. We called her mother, who immediately cried at the sound of Veronica’s voice. The mother had been trying to get Veronica home but couldn’t get a hold of her, and didn’t have the money to find her; she was scared and worried.
We almost lost our connection to Veronica, because the men in the encampment tried to prevent her from leaving. But we found her in a local coffee shop, and accompanied her back to the encampment to retrieve her belongings. In one of CAPTAIN CHS’s many partnerships with organizations around the county, we worked with two other agencies to send Veronica home to Maine. We purchased a bus ticket, escorted her to the bus, spoke with the driver, and taught her bus – and general – safety.
The Street Outreach team remains in contact with Veronica. She recently shared that things are going well at home, and she and her mother are looking for an apartment in a nicer neighborhood.
“I’m thriving here,” she texted. “It was a leap of faith in myself [to talk with you and go home] and I’m glad I made it. I can’t thank you enough.”
Veronica is far from an isolated incident.
Through October, 2018, CAPTAIN Community Human Services has housed, on average, 12 youth each month in our Youth Shelter. We have had contact with 2,235 youth living on the streets in Saratoga County, and have helped 39 safely exit the streets. We co-hosted the 4th annual Safe Harbour Conference to educate our community about commercial sexual exploitation of youth. STEHP – our Solutions To End Homelessness Program – has received 114 applications for rental and/or utility assistance to help families remain in their homes.
Please consider making a donation today to help us offer effective solutions to the social issues in our community. You will change lives!
Your tax-deductible donation will help ensure CAPTAIN Community Human Services will continue to lift people up and build brighter futures for many years to come.
Thank you. A thousand times, thank you.
Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season,
P.S. Through a challenge from a very generous local donor, every dollar we raise through the end of 2018 will be matched up to $35,000!