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Helping human trafficking survivors get back on their feet at Elora House

The house is open to survivors of human trafficking identifying as females and serves as a first stage home for these survivors
Elora House Logo.

ELORA – Set in an undisclosed location in Wellington County, Elora House opened its doors on March 2020 to survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation – the first of its kind in the county. 

The house is open to survivors identifying as females and serves as a first stage home for them.

Since opening, Elora House has housed 24 females, ranging in age from early teens to 50. 

“The purpose of our program is rest and stabilization for survivors. We’re the first stage home, and we’re modelled after a program in Florida. They have three different stages and three different homes,” said Monique Ekres, residential program director of Elora House. 

“The model centres around the study that the longer a survivor is out of the life of human trafficking or sexual exploitation, the more likely they succeed in breaking the cycle of victimization in their own life. So, the length of time is really important.”

The first stage home offers “wrap around support," which is offering all kinds of programs, resources and various therapies to survivors. Ekres noted the ultimate end goal for them is to help these survivors live a healthy and independent life. 

“We focus on a holistic healing approach, which looks at mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and wellness. In their first week, survivors are given the opportunity to rest and re-balance their sleeping schedule, diet and settling into the home.

After that, survivors will start on their wellness journey.

"We do fitness, yoga and mindfulness. We put a really big emphasis on positive thinking and gratitude practices which ties in with cognitive behaviour therapy. We also facilitate groups on various topics such as healthy boundaries, healthy relationships, addiction and they do Narcotics Anonymous.”

Meanwhile, a second stage home and program focuses on the future. It helps survivors with their education goals, resume building and job skills. 

However, trafficking is very complicated and traumatizing. It doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender or age, and many times, the traffickers of these survivors are still pursuing and searching for them in the community to reel them back in.

As such, Ekres and the rest of the Elora House staff work hard to keep their location confidential. 

For the first 4-6 weeks survivors are not able to leave the home except for appointments. Later in the program, survivors have the opportunity to visit with safe and supportive people in the community. They are not able to bring their phones and other electronic devices inside for safety purposes. 

“If a survivor comes into our care and has just exited a trafficking situation, a lot of the time, they don’t identify as a victim yet. So, if they don’t identify as a victim and don’t identify their trafficker as their trafficker, and they go out, meet them again, and come back to Elora House, the safety and location of the home is compromised,” she said. 

Trafficking survivors are allowed to go out of the house either for appointments which are usually accompanied by an Elora House staff member when they do group exercises or therapies, or when visiting with supportive people. 

Ekres also noted the common age range they see is between 21 to 27 years old, but they have housed survivors who are in their early teens and in their 40s and 50s. 

The survivors also come from all over Canada, and not just open for those living in Wellington County. 

She explained that a lot of the time, parents of a survivor contact her wanting to get into the house. Most of the time, however, survivors are already connected with a victim service worker and they get referred to Elora House. 

“Yes, it’s a program, so there’s a structure and guidelines, but we really want them to feel comfortable and take ownership of the space,” she said. 

“Elora House is a home like any other, so we have a kitchen, living room, and capacity to house four survivors. When they come into our care, we really want them to feel like they’re in a safe space and feel like they’re at home. So, if this means helping them practice their cultural traditions and practices by buying their ethnic food ingredients, we will do it.”

At the time of opening, the focus of Luisa Krause, the executive director and founder of Elora House, was to open a house as fast as possible as the need for housing for survivors was greatly needed. 

However, Ekres noted a second stage home is in the works and will be opened by the end of 2023 in order to further aid survivors transition back into the community.