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A Survivor’s Courageous Journey


By Emily Zelaya, Survivors of Trafficking Program Manager
July 2023

Diego was labor trafficked at a young age and forced to work in an auto body shop without proper safety equipment. By the time he came to Opening Doors to seek services, he had severe health conditions and was unable to work. He was living at his friend’s house, sleeping on a couch, and struggling to move out.

Diego’s story is like the story of many victims of human trafficking, which affects millions of people worldwide. Though human trafficking happens in every community, immigrants and refugees are more susceptible to trafficking situations due to multiple factors, such as immigration status, language barriers, and little knowledge of U.S. labor laws. Labor trafficked victims are typically forced and coerced to work in industries such as agriculture, janitorial services, construction, factories, massage and salon businesses, hospitality services, and domestic work.

When survivors of trafficking first become clients at Opening Doors, they may be actively escaping a dangerous situation. These individuals and their families may be experiencing homelessness, bouncing from shelter to shelter, or finding other ways to avoid their trafficker.

At Opening Doors, we support survivors’ transition away from trafficking situations and assist with independence and reintegration into a safe and supportive community. Our Survivors of Trafficking Program provides a client-centered approach that is culturally responsive and trauma-informed to identify the unique needs of every client. We aim to connect survivors with appropriate resources.

The first few months

When survivors of trafficking are first enrolled into our program, a complete needs assessment including a safety plan is put into place to help individuals safely escape their trafficking situation. A needs assessment allows us to identify the kind of assistance needed, whether it is financial, emotional, medical, educational or employment.  Most often, the focus is on identifying safe housing, food, mental health therapy, and transportation assistance. We assist clients and help them receive any government assistance they may qualify for, including Medicare, CalFresh, child support, disability, and more.

For clients who require immediate housing, we offer a temporary stay at our safe shelter, the Welcome House.  Individuals, regardless of gender, age, immigration status, number of children, are welcomed, including their beloved pets. The Welcome House provides a safe place for families to stay together and comfortably reside while they receive intensive case management.

In addition, clients are offered employment, life skills support, and immigration legal services. In partnership with other organizations, we help clients identify their educational and career goals, and support them with the necessary trainings and tools to help them secure those opportunities.

Towards independence and reintegration

Most clients participate in the program for over a year. During this time, we get to know their personal stories and families. Once survivors attain safe permanent housing, a stable income, and have the life skills they need to thrive, we work with them on transitioning them out of the program.

This past quarter, we graduated 12 clients. We are proud to be part of survivors’ stories like the story of Diego whose courageous journey inspires the work we do.

After a long battle, our Immigration Legal Services Program helped Diego achieve permanent legal residency. He was awarded social security benefits for his disability and is receiving assistance for food, rent, and proper medical care. His health continues to improve through physical therapy and he is thriving.

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  • Learn more about our Survivors of Trafficking Program
  • Report Suspected Human Trafficking to Federal Law Enforcement: 1-866-347-2423
  • Get Help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888

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