Shelter for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking in Immokalee is changing lives
When human trafficking and domestic violence survivors are able to get away from their abusers, there’s a special place in Southwest Florida for them to turn to.
It started off as a single choking incident.
For 17 and a half years, abuse and fear-filled this domestic violence survivor’s life. We’ll refer to her as Jane.
“Next thing I know, he pulled my hair and put a knife to my throat told me he was going to kill me. And if that wasn’t enough he literally head-butted me, he fractured my nose,” Jane said.
She was able to push through for some time but the lasts straw was him threatening her child.
“I was still hanging in there, but the final straw was when he told my boy that day you come here, and you come here. Today I want you to know I am going to kill your mother and I’m going to kill myself,” she said.
Eventually, she asked for help. “I remember trying to go to work as a corrections officer and he’s taking the chair and barricading the door and I wind up going in the kids door and I just said, ‘Can y’all help me? Can y’all just help me get out of the house?'” Jane said, tearing up.
“It’s 6 in the morning and I’m going to work. I’m supposed to be this power woman in uniform with handcuffs, and instead, I’m literally being abused at home. How does that work?” she said.
She asked for help and she got it, that was her opening.
“I just got in my car and left honestly,” Jane said. He was arrested and she left. “Yep just like that, I put my boys in the car and headed out here.”
She and her two boys drove south, with no place in mind. 14 hours later, they ended up in Florida. She called 211 and she was able to find the Shelly Stayer Shelter.
“They just brought us in here. My kids were able to play and be a kid again. Just be boys. They’ve been neglected of that and just be boys. They’ve been sad worrying about mommy and what daddy’s going to do,” she said.
The 21,000-foot shelter, located in Immokalee, has 60 beds in two pods designed to support and save domestic violence and human trafficking survivors.
Janette Lopez manages the shelter. “These women, they need a voice, they need to be heard and they need to be believed. And I felt like if I can be a small part of that then that’s what I’m supposed to be doing,” Lopez said.
The shelter is so much more than a safe haven. It offers counseling and the chance to take control of your life. There are on-site meditation rooms, fully stocked kitchens, a laundry room, playgrounds for kids and even a kennel for the four-legged friends.
This shelter means so much to the people staying there. But where would they be if it didn’t exist? “Some of them would be dead, some of them if we didn’t get them out of the situation that was the next step,” said Lopez.
Instead, their next step is to find out who they really are. “My birthday is coming up, I’ll be 40. I would like to start a new chapter as a 40-year-old lady, learning who is this person? I want to know who I am.”
And, also now Jane can just focus on being a mother.
“They really opened arms to me and my children. Just to see my boys on the playground they have here, just being able to ride bikes, and smile, and going to bed and they waking for school so happy,” she said.
“Oh my God, they’re waiting to wake up in the morning. Thank you, thank you so much to all of y’all. Thank you.”
If you or someone you know needs help getting out of an abusive situation, WINK News has resources to help.
Below are anti-human trafficking and mental health resources available to Southwest Floridians at the national and local level:
- National Human Trafficking Hotline
- Path 2 Freedom
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline
- David Lawrence Center (Collier County)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness, Collier County
- National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry Counties
- The National Alliance for Caregiving offers a free handbook
Circle of Care: A Guidebook for Mental Health Caregivers
- Collier County Mental Health Court
- Lee County Mental Health Court
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
- Local Support Groups: Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help)