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Portland home serves as drop-in center for human trafficking survivors

Free2Hope meets Louisville women where they are, with a hot meal, clean clothes, and resources to keep them safe and healthy.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — "Even people that are being victimized don't know they're being victimized," Amy Leenarts, CEO of Free2Hope, said while sitting at a kitchen table. She's been working with trafficking survivors for years.

"With trafficking, if a person is trying to get a place to stay for the night, even if its outside under an awning, and someone makes them do some kind of sexual favor, that's automatically trafficking. It seems small, it would never be investigated, but that's human trafficking. It can go to the point where it's an international syndicate, sending women places. It's everything in between."

We've grown accustomed to learning about specific people in our communities making us proud to live here. 

This week, it's an entire network of women working at a drop in center in Louisville's Portland neighborhood giving human trafficking survivors the ability to be Free2Hope. 

The home on the corner of West Main Street sticks out.  From the bright blue color to the painted stones, there's something different and welcoming about the place.

"I did a lot of research on what was being done here in Louisville, what was being done really well or not, and one thing I noticed was missing was a drop in center for victimized women," Leenerts said. 

Inside the facility, it's organized chaos as lunch is being served. We concealed the identity of women using the facility out of respect for their situations and to make them feel comfortable. 

Amy Leenerts was inspired by experiences in her own life to start the nonprofit Free2Hope, an organization meeting women where they are with clothes, a hot meal daily, and resources if they want them. 

"We've jumped to about 25-30 women every time we're open," Amy said about how many women they serve daily. "Twice what we were a year ago. I've gotten more trafficking victims than we've had ever. All kinds of different places, no kind of connection, but they're just coming out of the woodwork now."

Two full time employees with their own personal experiences propelling them are on staff with Amy.  

Keiona Whitehead works in the kitchen, making meals and making sure the women understand how loved they are when they enter the center.  

"If you're in that type of lifestyle, you've been trafficked, you've been through domestic violence, if you have substance abuse issues, you want that non judgmental unconditional love to come from somebody," Whitehead said. "So when it comes to me, the best thing I can do is give it back."

Another employee at the facility, Amber Lynae Brown, focuses her attention on laundry services and making sure each woman has a clean set of clothes.  

"This is my specialty, this is what I do," Brown said while looking through a packed clothes rack. "I love it when they come in, they don't even have to tell me sizes, they say, 'Oh I'm a size...' No don't even tell me. They say I should be in the fashion industry, I am! Dressing all you ladies."

Simple, straightforward love, with a simple straightforward mission. Do your best to help as many as you can. 

"I think we have a lot of effect here," Leenerts said. "I would hate, whether it's called 'Free2Hope', whatever its called, I would hate for there to not be the help out there. I can't imagine what these ladies would do, honestly. I cannot even imagine. It's not that were so great, it's that were here. We can help, and we will help."

Free2Hope's drop in center always needs more help. They love a good monetary donation, but also will take clothes or food if you have those to donate as well. To learn more about donating, click on this link.

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