Special Reports

Referrals cease to Hope House local shelter

The U.S. attorney’s office has stopped referring human trafficking victims to the Hope House domestic violence shelter, a primary grantee in the federal task force here.

The action came after the shelter failed to fulfill some of its obligations under the grant, human trafficking sources told The Star.

Hope House — which has provided shelter to more than 10,000 domestic abuse victims in the Kansas City area — received a $450,000 Justice Department grant in 2006 to expand its services to human trafficking victims.

Hope House CEO Mary Anne Metheny acknowledged recently that its human trafficking coordinator had left and wasn’t replaced. But she said she wasn’t aware of any problems related to the federal grant.

“We’ve met all the requirements … and have been in compliance,” Metheny said.

She also said that Hope House had accurately reported to the Justice Department that it aided 60 human trafficking victims under the three-year grant.

But Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, said Hope House’s number does not accurately reflect the number of victims referred to Hope House by all task force agencies. Metheny maintains 60 victims is an accurate number because it reflects referrals from a variety of sources.

Ledford confirmed that Hope House is not currently serving any trafficking victims referred by any task force members. But he wouldn’t say where future trafficking victims might be sent.

The local human trafficking task force has claimed numerous successes in the last three years. But federal grant reports show that it has been dogged by some of the same problems as many of the 41 other federally funded task forces across the country.

One federal audit noted last year that anti-trafficking organizations had inflated their numbers.

Lack of participation by some law enforcement agencies is another problem. Hope House’s federal grant reports noted that it was “very difficult to get all law enforcement agencies to attend task force meetings.”

That leads to “poor coordination,” Hope House officials said. The Independence Police Department, which got a separate $450,000 federal grant to train police officers to recognize trafficking victims, cited similar frustrations.

According to its 2008 reports, “Cooperation between the different organizations is becoming poor. Since the last report, there have been no FBI or ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) personnel attending any working group meetings. Additionally few agencies have participated in any reporting.”

FBI and ICE spokesmen acknowledged their agencies had missed several meetings. Participation improved after the U.S. attorney began hosting meetings downtown.

U.S. Attorney Matt Whitworth, however, downplayed the issues raised in the reports.

“This is a cooperative venture … that continues to evolve and strengthen as we work together to combat human trafficking,” Whitworth said.