Transportation Is Urgent Business

The mission of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition is to end and prevent forced labor and sexual exploitation of innocent children, women and men. Through advocacy, active engagement in community collaboration and education, the coalition seeks to identify victims, expose traffickers and users, promote slave-free practices and support survivors of human trafficking on their journey toward wholeness. The coalition envisions communities free of modern-day slavery.

The coalition continues to raise awareness of human trafficking and support local survivors in and around Central Missouri. The coalition facilitates numerous trainings, seminars and various events each year to bring attention to the cause. Annual events such as the Freedom 5K Walk and the Freedom by Fashion Show benefit are held to raise funds to provide local survivors the needed support enabling them to break the chains of their trafficker. The coalition has funded counseling sessions, provided shelter and food, and even secured and/or provided transportation.

Getting by without a car has always been hard, but now it can be the tipping point toward loss of housing. If you can’t get to work then you can’t pay rent, so transportation is often urgent business. With help from our United Way of Central Missouri Community Support Grant and a partnership with Cars 4 Columbia, the coalition has donated two cars to working, single parents with urgent needs and has provided six car repairs to help survivors keep their cars running. The coalition has plans (and grant funds) to donate two more cars as soon as minor repairs and inspections are completed.

Ann (pictured) is the recipient of a donated minivan made possible by United Way grant funding. We could hear the despair in Ann’s voice when she told us of the pain she endured driving her 20+ year old car. Ann’s car was a stick shift and the seats had hardly any padding left. It made her back hurt every time she drove it, so she didn’t drive much. Ann has endured numerous back surgeries to repair injuries she suffered at the hands of her trafficker. In Ann’s case, a minivan provided much more than a comfortable, safe vehicle to get to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping and other errands; it helped her look beyond the pain she endures and it empowers her to help other survivors whenever she can. It’s powerful when people get the help they need.

Erika is the recipient of the second donated car made possible by United Way grant funding. When Erika first came to the coalition needing help with transportation, she said “I feel like I’m trying so hard but constantly on the verge of drowning.” Just a few weeks later, Erika had reliable transportation again, thanks to a car donation from the coalition. She could not be more grateful or happy!

More than 10.5 million households in this country don’t have a personal vehicle. Many people who don’t have cars are already part of a marginalized group, such as low-income individuals (households with an annual income of less than $25,000 are nearly nine times as likely to have no personal vehicles), those with disabilities (only 65 percent of people with disabilities drive compared to 88 percent of non-disabled people), or people of color (14 percent of people of color households don’t have a vehicle compared to 6 percent of white households, and immigrants across races are even less likely to have a car).

The transportation options that exist for people without cars were already imperfect — they’re time consuming, don’t cover many areas and can be inaccessible — but they’re even more challenging now. Budgets for public transit across the country have been cut and service has been reduced, making it increasingly risky and difficult for those who do need these services to use them safely and effectively. This combination directly impacts people who don’t have cars. While the pandemic has made many businesses and medical facilities nimble and creative, it has widened the inequality gap for those who don’t have cars.

Drive-thru services are often very literal. One night in my early twenties, I was staying with friends and we found ourselves hungry at 10 pm. The only places open were drive-thrus, so we tried to convince the staff at a drive-thru to let us order and pay from the window even though we didn’t have a car. Not having a car was a deal breaker. They said they legally couldn’t serve us or they’d lose their jobs.

The survivors we serve have had dozens of moments like that throughout their life… Turning down a job offer because they had no way to get there, choosing not to go to the doctor because they felt too sick to walk but not sick enough to call an ambulance, asking a friend to help print out a school assignment because they wouldn’t have enough time to walk to the library to print it themselves, calling the coalition to come pick them up when they got sick at work because they had no other way to get home, not applying to jobs because they weren’t on public transit routes and were too far to walk to.

I hope in reading this article, it makes you wonder what you would do if you didn’t have a car. You would be facing the same choices millions of Americans have to make now. Can I afford to take an Uber to get to work every day? Should I cancel my follow-up appointment if I have to get on a bus to get there? How much will it cost if I call an ambulance to get to the hospital because there is no bus service near me?

No one should have to live this way, and with grant funding from United Way, the coalition is working to make sure people who have been impacted by trafficking do not have lack of transportation as a barrier to succes.