Residents of Eden House gather in the third-floor spiritual room of Eden House for readings and reflection. Six women, ages 23 to 43, are working hard to reinvent themselves after experiencing horrific existences most would not dare to imagine.
Eden House is a safe haven for women who have survived human trafficking, prostitution, violence and addiction. They will complete a two-year residential program designed to help them emerge self-confident, independent and prepared to lead normal lives.
Second-hand furnishings, books, personal items, scented candles and a peaceful ambience permeate the rambling house that has become the women’s new home. The community is invited to support the effort, and a wish list is available for those who can help provide the basic needs to support their recovery.
“It is a failure of our community that we allow women and children to be bought and sold,” Kara Van de Carr, executive director of the nascent nonprofit, told a community group that recently toured the home.
Van de Carr was a political adviser in Jamaica when she first began probing the global issue of human trafficking. Returning to the United States, she was astonished to find the problem endemic to New Orleans and dedicated herself to making a difference.
Underage girls, even preteens, are often lured to covert locations with the promise of food and shelter, then drugged and frequently gang-raped before being put on the street by pimps, according to Van de Carr. Before long, they become addicted to drugs and contract sexually transmitted diseases, but have little education or access to the wealth they create for others. If they get entangled with the law and receive sentences and fines, when they are released from prison, there has been little or no support and they often fall back into prostitution.
“We need to support their recovery because the criminal justice system has failed,” said Van de Carr, an attorney.
Van de Carr said the idea for Eden House came from a model program in Nashville, Tennessee, called Magdalene House. Rehabilitation is more cost-effective than repeated incarceration and hospitalization, she said.
“For every $1 spent in recovery, $7 is saved in the justice system and $5 in health care costs,” Van de Carr said.
Residents keep busy schedules, catching up on education missed, learning job skills, meeting with attorneys, attending 12-step meetings and doing volunteer work. Many have lost custody of their children.
Van de Carr initially wanted to help the children born out of the sex trade, but ultimately realized the best thing she could do was give them back their mothers.
“The key to sustaining recovery is economic independence,” Van de Carr said.
The Episcopal Diocese owns the Eden House building, although the program is not faith-based. All furniture and household items were donated. A single dentist provides free dental work, which can be extensive.
“The task at Eden House is to help these women find an inner resilience to overcome tremendous adversity,” said Dr. Vivienne Hayne, a psychiatrist who provides pro bono counseling services.
Clemmie Greenlee, a graduate of the program at Magdalene House, is the resident supervisor at Eden House.
“Clemmie models recovery to show hope to those who have none,” Van de Carr said. “The fact that she survived that is a miracle, but she has love, forgiveness and acceptance — and that shows the power of the human spirit.”
Eden House is completely supported by private funding. For information, email email@example.com. To contribute, visit edenhousenola.org or send a check payable to Eden House to P.O. Box 750386, New Orleans, LA 70175-0386.