Shelter opens for women trying to escape human trafficking

WORCESTER, Mass. — On the outside, it looks like any other multi-family building in Worcester.

But inside, it is literally a safe harbor for women trying to escape a life of sexual exploitation.

“We are kind of sheltering the unshelterable,” Nikki Bell, founder of Worcester LIFT told me.

Worcester LIFT is a survivor-led organization dedicated to ending prostitution and human trafficking and Harbor is its latest creation.

Harbor is designed to not only gets women off the streets, no questions asked, but its staff also works with each woman to get them the help they need to exit the “life.”

“Our goal is to continue to be there, and help them stay safe and hopefully believe that they have a community that they need to exit and get some support,” Bell said.

“It is like a one-stop-shop. They don’t have to go here, there, everywhere, we can help navigate those systems with them,” Audra Doody, Worcester LIFT’s Outreach and Advocacy Director told me.

Harbor looks, and feels, like home.

There’s a big kitchen, there’s privacy, inspirational signs on the walls.

And most importantly, staffers are themselves, survivors of the street life.

They know what each woman is going through, and they know the services they need.

“Truthfully, most of us have handled so much there isn’t anything we can’t handle, we can’t be there for,” Desiree Demos, Harbor’s Program Director said. “Things that make other people run away, we run towards.”

Worcester’s Commissioner of Health and Human Services told me she is so impressed by Harbor’s approach to helping a vulnerable community, she would like to see other shelters follow Harbor’s example.

“We want to make women self-sufficient and go about their lives, on their own work and do the things they are supposed to do,” Dr. Matilde Castiel said.