Shelly Stayer Shelter to be built in Immokalee

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The Shelter is Collier County’s dedicated service provider for human trafficking victims, as ratified by Collier County Commissioners and Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Oct. 11, 2016.

To address a serious and growing need for services in rural Eastern Collier County, The Shelter recently launched a capital campaign to build the Shelly Stayer Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking & Domestic Violence (aka The Shelly Stayer Shelter). Our campaign acronym RISE lifts up our call for action, asking each of us to:

  • Respond to the need
  • Inspire others to join
  • Support the mission and
  • Empower survivors

Stayer, who has been involved with the shelter more than eight years, provided a $3 million lead gift to establish this 15,000-square-foot, 32-bed shelter to be constructed on five acres of property in Immokalee, FL. Designed by Naples architect David Corban, the facility will feature three main areas: a section to accommodate the long-term therapeutic needs of victims of human trafficking; a section to shelter victims of domestic abuse; and a section dedicated to Immokalee outreach.

“We are thrilled that this much-needed shelter will soon become a reality,” said Linda Oberhaus, executive director of The Shelter. “It is a project that has been in our plans for several years. Ms. Stayer’s generosity has allowed us to fast-track this project to save and transform many lives.”

Why Immokalee and why now?

Established in 1997, the services provided by the Immokalee Outreach Office (IOO) have grown exponentially over the years. In 2000, The Shelter was recognized as a national model for its work serving immigrant and migrant battered women through its Immokalee Outreach Office. The addition of an Immokalee emergency shelter will allow survivors to be safe as well as close to their family support systems, employment and their children’s schools. Currently, many survivors return to unsafe circumstances rather than travel to Naples for emergency shelter.

The need to serve victims of human trafficking has also increased in Collier County. Nationally, Florida is among the top four locations for human trafficking. While we live in a community that one might not associate with human trafficking, it is important to note that The Shelter has served 38 victims of human trafficking in just the last two years. Most of these were victims of sex trafficking.
Increased awareness of human trafficking has led the Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) to dedicate a fulltime detective specifically for human trafficking. On March 6, 2015, the CCSO and Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested 15 traffickers and rescued six women, some of whom were forced to perform 25-45 sex acts a day.

“There is no other agency in Collier County better prepared to address the short and long term needs of domestic violence and human trafficking victims than The Shelter,” said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk.” On Oct. 11, 2016, Collier commissioners and sheriff’s officials recognized this in a memorandum of understanding, naming The Shelter as the county’s foremost service provider to meet the needs of domestic violence and human trafficking victims.

Needs assessment

To measure the need for an emergency facility in Immokalee, The Shelter launched an extensive needs assessment. The study utilized data from law enforcement and judiciary sources, information from focus groups, surveys, interviews with Immokalee residents as well as the input of 32 community organizations.

Updated in 2015, the assessment provides concrete assurance of the need for an emergency shelter in Immokalee. Like the Naples community in 1989, the residents of Immokalee have come together, recognizing the issue of domestic violence and human trafficking and the need for culturally specific services within their community. But they need county-wide support to make this facility a reality.

As The Shelter moves forward, we anticipate the continued, compassionate support that has created a safe haven for survivors in Coastal Collier County.

It is our firm belief that every human being deserves to live a life free from violence and abuse. This is the reality we seek every day at The Shelter as we work to prevent, protect and prevail over domestic violence and human trafficking. It is a reality we seek for all residents in Collier County, for if a person cannot feel safe in their own home, then they cannot be expected to feel safe anywhere.

Please join us in this critical initiative. For more information on how you can get involved, call 239-775-3862.