Hue Jackson wants to make the world a safer place for human trafficking victims—starting with CLE

There are close to one million human trafficking victims in the United States, with a child forced into the $3.5 billion industry every two minutes. Although Ohio ranks fourth in the country for reports of human trafficking cases, there are just six beds available in Cleveland for rescued victims of modern-day slavery—and all six beds are in Cleveland’s Salvation Army Zelma George Family Shelter.

Starting in July, Cleveland will have a total of 18 beds for human trafficking victims—thanks to a commitment by the Hue Jackson Foundation—an organization founded by Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson and his wife, Michelle, to empower survivors of human trafficking by funding organizations that fight for those exploited—and a partnership with the Salvation Army Northeast Ohio Division.

In its first endeavor, the Jackson Foundation allocated $250,000 for the renovation of the third floor of the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Complex on Prospect Avenue to create the Hue Jackson Survivors of Human Trafficking Residence.

Hue Jackson- Survivor's-of-Human Trafficking Residence layout
The 12-bed residence will provide safe housing for adult female human trafficking victims and will offer a safe environment for victims to heal and focus on their treatment. “We wanted to create a place where residents feel safe,” says Andrea Wedren, executive director of the Hue Jackson Foundation. “We wanted to make a space that was non-institutional.”

Designed by John Faile Architectural Consulting in Bay Village, the residence will have three bedrooms with 12 beds; a bathroom and shower area; a gathering room with a television; a conference room; and a private office for community partners to offer confidential services to the residents. “It’s a locked unit,” says Wedren. “Residents can get in, but other people can’t get in unless the residents are there.”

Major Evan Hickman, Divisional Commander of the Salvation Army’s Northeast Ohio division and Cleveland area coordinator, says the Jacksons approached him about a year ago about creating the Survivors of Human Trafficking Residence.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the Jackson Foundation,” he says. “They reached out at the same time we were looking to renovate Harbor Light.” Zelma George opened in November 2016, freeing up the additional space in the Harbor Light facility.

Hickman says the Salvation Army is active in eliminating human trafficking around the globe—130 countries, to be exact—and he is pleased to see Cleveland leading the way. “There are only 1,000 beds in the United States for survivors, and Cleveland has 18 of them,” shares Hickman.

In addition to the Hue Jackson Foundation and the Salvation Army, other community partners include the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, the FBI, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's department, and the Renee Jones Empowerment Center. Additionally, the residents will receive services to assimilate back into society.

“We’ll offer a lot of great programs for these victims, with a lot of groups who want to partner with us,” says Hickman. “We will have comprehensive services to meet the various needs of the survivors, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”

Services will include case management, working with law enforcement, and job training. “We will offer them a different menu for them to fit back in the mainstream,” Jackson adds. “We’ll try to touch these victims in every way we personally can. We will continue to find ways to positively impact them and be the first piece of starting something that is an impactful and moving way of helping them.”

The whole point, Hickman says, is to provide a caring environment and keep the victims safe from their predators. “We have a safe environment, away from pimps or anyone else trying to get these survivors away,” he says.

On Thursday, May 31, Jackson addressed 175 independent financial advisors at Beachwood-based Stratos Wealth Partners’ national meeting about the foundation’s efforts to bring awareness to human trafficking and help survivors lead normal, productive lives. While Jackson spoke, attendees could donate to the foundation using their cell phones. By the end of Jackson’s speech, the financial advisors had committed $25,000 for the Jackson foundation and the forthcoming residence.

“This is such a worthy cause and unfortunately, most people just don’t know that human trafficking exists in their own backyard, and I am so proud of our team for their generosity and support,” said Stratos founder and CEO Jeff Concepcion in a statement.

Hue and Michelle Jackson started the foundation last year. “We did it after finding out more about what happened with victims and that they didn’t have a safe place to go,” he says. “When we learned there were only six beds in Cleveland, we knew we had to do something.”

As the parents of three daughters and witnessing different phases of human trafficking firsthand, Jacksons says they felt the urge to act. “Having three children, you’re always feeling that responsibility,” he says.

Wedren, who became executive director of the Hue Jackson Foundation when it was formed last year, says she was shocked at how large the human trafficking problem is. “It’s really, really bad—way worse than I expected,” she recalls. “Human trafficking is literally happening in every suburb of Cuyahoga County. No one is immune from it. The youngest victim that has been recovered was five and the oldest is 66, with the average age being 12 to14.”

Additionally, Wedren says people often think of prostitution when they hear about incidents of human trafficking, but the criminal activity extends beyond prostitution, into forced labor in industries like nail salons. “It’s sex and labor trafficking,” she explains. “It’s cash for the traffickers and the risks are very low. These girls can see 10 to 15 jobs a day, and it’s every single day.”

Wedren adds that traffickers will go to other countries and make promises of money and education to lure victims in. “They then take their passports from them and force them into labor,” she explains. “They are threatened, and their families’ lives are threatened—any kind of manipulation.”

Construction began on the new residence the first week of January, Hickman says, and will be completed by July. Lawler Construction is reshaping the entire floor plan on the third story of Harbor Light, erecting new walls, installing new floors, and adding new heat and air conditioning. “It’s a state-of-the-art facility,” says Hickman.

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Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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