The recently opened St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House is located at 3138 N. Second St., Milwaukee. On Sept. 25, an open house was held for the facility. (Submitted photo)
A couple of weeks ago, a group of women who have survived sexual exploitation moved to the St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House in Milwaukee.
These women are the first to be served at the new worker house, a place for them to recover, heal and live.
Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines offered a house blessing for the new facility, located at 3138 N. Second St., Milwaukee, during an open house Sunday, Sept. 25.
Named after St. Bakhita, the patron saint of human trafficking and slavery, the St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House offers a safe haven for women.
“Milwaukee is definitely known as a hub for sexual exploitation, which could be human trafficking or prostitution. It is a huge problem, not just in Milwaukee. No community is safe from it, really. It’s everywhere, especially with the internet and things like that. It is a huge problem,” said Anne Haines, executive director of the St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House.
There is a myriad of causes for the problem.
“Quite often there is some incident in a woman’s childhood of some type of abuse. Often, there are addiction issues associated with it, like alcohol or drug use. I don’t think there is one woman who doesn’t have trauma in her background,” Haines said.
For the past 25 years, the Franciscan Peacemakers in Milwaukee have helped women who have suffered from sexual exploitation and substance addiction. The organization has offered housing for these women since 2014.
The St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House is partnering with the Franciscan Peacemakers to offer additional living space and more resources for these women.
“They are migrating from the Franciscan Clare Community into the second floor of our Bakhita House,” Haines said.
The women can stay up to two years at the Bakhita House. There is currently space for six women survivors, with a capacity to house up to 12 women in the future. In addition, there is room on the third floor for six women to live in community as Catholic workers.
“The Bakhita House is providing the actual rooms and the sense of community for these women. We will all be living together, we will be having health and wellness activities, retreats and different opportunities for education,” Haines said.
The building now known as the St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House formerly served as the home to the Capuchin Franciscans, who moved out in May. However, they were originally supposed to move out much sooner than that.
“We were going to have our open house two other times, but it had to be canceled because the Capuchins were moving to their new residence, and they kept having construction delays and supply chain issues and things like that,” Haines said.
However, the extra time helped her get everything in place.
“I spent the last year interfacing with different groups of people and collecting items and putting them in storage. I did a lot of networking with people and just kind of laying the groundwork,” Haines said.
At the open house Sept. 25, visitors toured the first floor of the house, where there is a dining hall, meeting room with a library, large retreat space, TV and game room, large double kitchen and pantry. They also got to see the women’s rooms and the chapel, which are located on the second floor. In the basement, there is a health and wellness room.
“This will help fill a big void in the area,” Haines said. “There is a huge need for housing.”
For more information about the St. Bakhita Catholic Worker House, visit www.bakhitahouse.org.