Emotions ran high last Wednesday as a panel addressed an overflow audience of Coronado residents regarding a proposed transitional home for women victims of sex trafficking. Facilitated by Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey, the meeting included details about the legality, status and objectives of the GenerateHope home, which is still in the planning stages and would potentially be located in a large Coronado home.
The meeting got off to a fiery start as the Coronado Fire Marshall was forced to ask more than sixty people to leave due to overcrowding that violated the room’s occupancy limits. Once the room was deemed safe, each member of the panel presented an overview of the project and attempted to diffuse the crowd’s palpable energy. Bailey began the meeting explaining that its purpose was to clarify misinformation and attempt to allay concerns, an effort that was clearly warranted in this town where residents are known for getting excited about things that might interfere with the reputation as a quiet, reserved community.
“I suggested conducting this meeting because I wanted people to know what was going on; what (GenerateHope) is and what it is not,” said Mayor Bailey. “This is about full transparency as there is a lot of misinformation and, as the saying goes, it’s never too early to overreact in Coronado. But the citizens have a right to understand the project and its impact on the community.”
Bailey explained at the outset that one of the common questions he has received relates to state law and city ordinances. To that end, Bailey stated that transitional homes are permitted by California state law and that even if the City of Coronado wanted to stop its development, it could not. He also made it clear that the City’s legal responsibility is to stay neutral by not opposing or supporting GenerateHope.
Following Mayor Bailey, Summer Stephan, San Diego Chief Deputy District Attorney, gave a primer on sex trafficking in the region, explaining that it is the 2nd largest source of criminal activity in San Diego behind drugs and that the affected women are victims. Stephan brought the first sex trafficking case in California more than a decade ago and was instrumental in passing a 2003 law to prosecute domestic sex traffickers. Stephan went on to explain that “when you shine a light on the problem, you have more safety.”
“The solution is multi-faceted, requiring law enforcement and the broad community to work together,” said Stephan. “These women are not criminals. They are victims of sex trafficking who are our daughters, sisters and neighbors; more than 80 percent of them are American. These women are craving stability. GenerateHope is proposing a safe location to provide education, therapy and the mental health services required to transition them back into society. And a large part of what we believe Coronado can provide is mentoring by women in the community.”
In the months since GenerateHope’s plans came to light, and amidst a bevy of media reports attempting to clarify the project’s intent, there have been more questions than answers. Among the prevailing concerns about Generate Hope are that: 1) it is like a drug treatment center or half-way house; 2) it will attract a criminal element in the form of sex traffickers searching out the women they were exploiting to force them back into modern day slavery; and 3) the home will turn a quiet neighborhood loud and busy. The panel’s participants explained that none of those are the case, providing facts to the contrary.
“GenerateHope was started 10 years ago, as a grassroots group, concerned about what was happening and the fact that there were not recovery resources (for victims of sex trafficking),” stated Susan Munsey, GenerateHope’s Director of Programs. The purpose of a transitional home in Coronado is to have a place for these women to come after they have been treated successfully at our “safe house” in South San Diego. The fact is that traffickers do not chase their victims, and the sad truth as to why is that they can easily and quickly find other victims through social media.”
Dan DeSaegher, GenerateHope’s Executive Director, attempted to provide additional clarification and reassurance. “We are sensitive to the concern regarding too many cars in the area and that the home’s residents will become a nuisance. There will be six women in the house in addition to two ‘house moms’, no men will be allowed in the women’s living space, there will be no overnight visitors and there will be no cars parked in front of the house. We are providing a safe environment for a small group of women to safely transition back into the community. It is highly-structured and is not a business. GenerateHope is a home.”
At times, the gathering got heated with community members asking questions out of clear concern – and legitimate ignorance – about the impact of the home on the safety of residents. It appeared that the crowd was primarily in favor of the project despite a few who clearly were not. One community member asked how they could oppose the plan, to which Stephan calmly stated “the only reason evil thrives is because of the number of good people that do nothing to stop it. The laws are on the books to make this happen. If you want to change the laws, the best way to do this is to contact your local representatives. Let me suggest, however, that you learn more about this.”
One community member admitted that she was on the fence before coming to the meeting. After hearing about GenerateHope, however, she passionately asked “where do I sign up to volunteer?’” Her retort was met with large applause and what appeared to be widespread support.
The meeting was a good example of how the City of Coronado, specifically Mayor Bailey, is responsive to community concerns. It was also an important reminder to reserve judgement on a matter until all the facts are presented. GenerateHope has not signed a lease for any property to date. And, while its plans for a transitional home in Coronado appear to be in the final stages, nothing is set in stone.
Thank you to Dominique Davis who recorded the meeting and shared the video on facebook:
Over 200 people attended a meeting tonight to learn about GenerateHope and the work they will be doing in our community…