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Price of Paradise: Rent prices 're-victimizing' women in trafficking

"We've seen a major increase"
Rent re-victimizing trafficking victims
Posted at 6:50 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 05:05:09-04

TAMPA, Fla. — A new rent report shows monthly rent costs in Tampa Bay are up 42% compared to last March. Some local renters are being put out on the street without an affordable living option to turn to.

For a small group of women in Tampa, it's the return to a past they have worked so hard to escape from.

“I’m going to be honest, I just feel like I’m stuck," Jasmine Barner, a Tampa mother of four, said. "I feel like I’m stuck."

Stuck in the inescapable situation she clawed out of just three years ago.

"How am I supposed to live life right and be on the right track and stay out of this messed up cycle when it’s just so impossible?” she said.

Barner was pulled into the dark world of trafficking as a teenager.

“Age 13 I was dealing with mental health and of course, drugs, and I started selling my body for money," she said. “At first, it was just a hustle. It was a way to make quick money, but then after that, it was my way of surviving.”

Barner opened up to ABC Action News about her troubled past with drug addiction, sex trafficking, jail time, and losing custody of her kids. It's a past she forced herself out of for the sake of her four young girls.

“I can’t let them see how hard this really is, because then it’s so easy to just be vulnerable and get sucked into the wrong choices," she said.

After working the Tampa streets for six years and falling in and out of drug recovery programs, Barner finally found the help she needed through an organization called Created in 2019.

“It literally, I went into the house with two garbage bags of clothes," she said "That was what I owned."

“We’re just trying to meet those who may be experiencing trafficking and exploitation and offering gifts and offering resources," Created Executive Director Jillian Penhale said. "Letting them know that there are ways that they can exit.”

Penhale and her team reach out to vulnerable women on the street and provide them with a safe haven. A sense of security.

“Help them go through the stages of healing and recovery in order to exit and hopefully achieve stable income, stable housing, and just a new future for themselves," Penhale said.

After a year with Created, Barner graduated from the program and nabbed a full-time job, beginning to build that new future for her family.

"They taught me how to live my life," Barner said.

But after just two years of progress, she's afraid it's all coming down.

"It feels like I'm being evicted over and over again," she said.

Barner had her fourth girl eight months ago. When her family grew she knew her home had to grow with it.

"I have to go to a three-bedroom," she said.

According to the latest rent report by Zumper, the average cost of a three-bed in Tampa is $2,397. Barner said she cannot find anything under $2,000.

"I can't afford - I can't afford these places," she said.

To make things worse for Barner, she said, every landlord she has spoken with requires proof of income three times the monthly rent. Barner brings in anywhere from $800 to $1,200 a paycheck, equating to $1,600 to $2,400 per month.

“I’m a single mom, I have four girls. It’s hard and I bust my butt every single day, but I don’t make that kind of money," she said.

Barner's worst fear is that she winds up right where she started, back on the street, and she would not be alone.

"We've seen a major increase in the amount of women that we're serving," Penhale said.

Penhale said her Created team is finding double the amount of women trafficking during its weekly outreach and even more are stopping by their drop-in center. One woman in Created's recovery program, Penhale said, went back to sex work after her apartment became too expensive.

“Her rent was raised by almost $500 a month and when that happened her immediate thought was, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to go back out on the street,'" Penhale said.

With evictions up in March and affordable housing hard to come by, Barner has one month to find a new home before her old one beckons her back.

“I know that I have not come this far just to be on the streets with my four kids. You know what I mean? So I know that something is going to happen, but I just can’t see it yet," Barner said.

If you feel trapped as a victim of trafficking you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Created is also here to help. You can call the nonprofit organization at 813-445-0884 or visit their drop-in center near Nebraska Avenue and 23rd Avenue in Tampa.