ASU partners with Phoenix in affordable housing project for sex trafficking survivors

Called Starfish Place, the facility will create a safe house and aid for survivors

The City of Phoenix and ASU are partners in the first affordable housing complex for the victims of sex trafficking, a 15-unit project in North Phoenix. 

The 6800-square-foot facility, called Starfish Place, was opened to families on Nov 3. The project received a $50,000 grant from the ASU President’s Office, as well as several interns from the School of Social Work.

The dean of ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions, Jonathan Koppell, said this complex is different from other efforts to help the victims of sex trafficking.

“What’s different about this is that it allows the families to remain intact,” Koppell said. “One of the women who spoke who had been trafficked talked about how she had to give up her daughter in part because something like Starfish Place didn’t exist.” 

At Starfish Place, victims can bring their families to live with them instead of being separated. There are even services specifically tailored to children, including a playground and tutoring.

The project was the result of efforts by the Human Trafficking Task Force of the City of Phoenix. The ASU School of Social Work and the City of Phoenix had discussed the problems that clients have been having when trying to exit the world of prostitution.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, an associate professor at the School of Social Work and the director of the ASU Office of Sex Trafficking, said the idea for Starfish Place came from a conversation between the ASU School of Social Work and the Human Trafficking Task Force. Through those conversations, the groups found the main challenge facing survivors of sex trafficking is finding family-oriented affordable housing.

Roe-Sepowitz said the purpose of Starfish Place is to be a "safe house" for survivors.

“So our goal is to provide a community," Roe-Sepowitz said. "We’ve spent quite a long time and quite a bit of effort doing focus groups with survivors in the Phoenix community. They identified things like ‘we want to feel safe there and we want to feel dignity.'" 

Koppell announced that next year, there will be five reserved spots in ASU's Next Generation Service Corps for victims of sex trafficking that are attending ASU. NGSC is a service organization that provides scholarships for students. 

Graphic published on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017.

Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, who greeted over 100 people at the grand opening of Starfish Place, said he thinks Phoenix community members will be excited to help with the project.

“Phoenix is a warm, loving community with a huge heart," Stanton said. "And I think as more and more people find out about Starfish Place, people are going to want to help out."

Stanton said human trafficking is a broader issue than people may realize.

“This is not an issue that just affects a small amount of people," Stanton said. "There are, sadly, hundreds of thousands of people who are hurt by human trafficking. We have to acknowledge that it’s a tremendous issue and then take active steps to help the survivors.”

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