By Tom Farmer
Corporate Communications, MassHousing
MassHousing will host a conference next month that will focus on the serious problem of human trafficking and how affordable housing professionals can recognize and respond to the complex issues related to it.
MassHousing's daylong 2015 Community Services Conference will be held on March 24 at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Norwood.
The conference will address what staff at multifamily rental housing developments, including both assisted and public housing, as well as service providers and advocates, need to know to understand the complex psychological, legal and public health consequences of human trafficking in urban, suburban and rural communities.
Law enforcement officials say the Internet allows prostitution and human trafficking to occur just about anywhere. Ringleaders advertise on-line geographically and prostitutes being held against their will, many times minors or women brought to the area from other countries, are then taken to meet with clients. Human trafficking occurs in hotels and motels, private homes, apartments and even public housing, officials say.
"Human trafficking is a growing problem that is not immune to affordable housing," said MassHousing Executive Director Thomas R. Gleason. "We felt the issue was so serious for the housing community in Massachusetts that we wanted to use our annual Community Services Conference to raise awareness and help housing professionals recognize and respond to it."
One of the experts who will participate in the conference is Dr. Brook Bello, a human trafficking survivor and human rights activist who is also an author, actress, filmmaker and ordained minister. Dr. Bello is the CEO and Executive Director of More Too Life, Inc., a national victim services, social justice, youth mentoring and anti-trafficking rescue center.
According to her biography, Dr. Bello has spoken and taught alongside governors, senators, legislators, and church leaders and has presented at dozens of anti-trafficking conferences as the keynote and as a teacher/instructor. She was a keynote speaker at the White House last September for the President's "Eradication of Modern Day Slavery Summit."
She received her "Doctorate of Human Letters" from the Richmond Virginia Seminary in October 2013. Dr. Bello was a victim of human trafficking until she took a job at a local restaurant in Beverly Hills where she met actor Jon Voight who became her first mentor, and eventually found a therapist for her.
Her pastor and friends also assisted her and she discovered her voice in the arts and became an actor and playwright. Dr. Bello has worked on more than 10 TV shows in 68 guest star and recurring roles. She has worked with many notable actors in film and TV such as Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Ralph Fiennes, Charles Dutton and Kathryn Bigelow. During this time Dr. Bello said she "began to build her voice and train and study on the root causes of sexual violence and began More Too Life."
Her first book, "Living Inside the Rainbow, Winning the Battlefield of the Mind After Human Trafficking," tells the journey of her life. In May 2014, More Too Life launched "Turn The Tide," a national campaign focusing on preventing the demand for prostitution and human trafficking.
"Many adults living within housing authority supported residences around the nation, are victims and former victims of Human Trafficking (sex slavery)," said Dr. Bello. "Many adult women who are there were trafficked for many years and cast out to live a life of despair. Unfortunately, some of those same women who have children are not able identify it in their own children. We have our work to do to turn all of this around and to create initiatives that train and educate and transform the lives of others."
Among the topics the MassHousing conference will address are:
- How do you identify human trafficking?
- How does it manifest in housing for families, elders and people with disabilities?
- What is the direct impact on affordable rental developments?
- What are preventative steps housing providers can take?
- What to do if you think human trafficking is occurring at your site.
- What are some of the best practices for building community partnerships?
- What is Massachusetts' response plan?
For more information about the conference or to register please visit www.masshousing.com/conference.