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Near east side 'Dream House' gives women in prostitution a reason for hope

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Posted at 3:28 PM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 15:44:58-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The Dream House, as it’s known, is located on the city’s near east side just a few blocks away from 10th and Rural. It’s a place of refuge and relief for women to come to during the daytime who have experienced sex trafficking, sex work, and commercial sexual exploitation.

Stefanie Jeffers is the founder and CEO of Grit Into Grace, a local nonprofit, with the intention of giving women a second chance. It’s a second chance at feeling dignified. It’s a second chance at feeling hopeful. It’s a second chance for these women to know that they’re worth more than the work that they do.

At first glance walking up to the Dream House looks like anything but a dream. It’s a small, brown ranch-style home with a front porch and a driveway. It’s completely unassuming, until you walk inside.

The moment you step into the Dream House, it’s a breath of fresh air with lightly colored walls, a comfortable couch to sit on, a neatly set dining room table, and a friendly golden retriever to greet you inside the newly renovated home.

To the women the Dream House serves, it’s their light at the end of a dark tunnel.

“It’s a place for them to find resources, programming, and have some basic daily needs met,” Jeffers explained. “They can get lunch, get clothing, get some hygiene items, meet with a case manager, set some goals and work on safety plans.”

She describes the Dream House as a “survivor center” and “survivor-led.”

“We’re here for people wherever they are, in whatever situation they find themselves in. So, we try to meet people where they’re at,” Jeffers said.

Jeffers would know. She’s a survivor of sex work and childhood sexual exploitation.

“It became really hard on me,” Jeffers recalled. “From my own triggers and unhealed trauma and some PTSD moments I experienced inside the [strip] clubs and outside the clubs.”

Jeffers said she spent a lot of time praying, crying and getting therapy for her own trauma and taking time to heal.

“One of the things that I experienced in the life [of sex work] was that I had no hope for a future and I didn’t dream anymore,” Jeffers said. “And so, that became something that I’ve heard over and over again from women still in the life.”

She said it was in those moments that she had a vision for a place where women could go. “It was very specific. It had a front porch and a driveway on the right-hand side. Two bedrooms, not to utilize as bedrooms, but that is just what I had pictured in my head.”

It was then she thought this is what she was supposed to do. To start an organization and have a place called, The Dream House. “Because I want to have a place where people can come and rest, have their needs met, and begin to dream again,” Jeffers said. “So, that’s why it’s called The Dream House. That’s where it all began in my own brokenness and my own healing, and my own seeking God for answers and how I am able to continue to serve.”

How Jeffers acquired the house, she explained it was through the generosity of others. She realized on the city’s near east side is where the Dream House needed to be due to the heightened level of escorting and sex trafficking that occurs there.

“From there, I connected with IMPD and coming on a ride-along on the near east side of Indianapolis. Doing those things opened my eyes to street prostitution and it opened my eyes to the needs that women are experiencing in a different way than what women were experiencing in the strip clubs, because it’s different,” Jeffers explained. “Location matters. We want to be right where women are.”

Less than a year after saying, “Yes!” to the Dream House, it was complete and open to the women it now serves since 2018.

“Sex trafficking survivors, women who have been in the sexual exploitation and sex work, there was not a lot of choice in that, and so, it’s really important for us to give them a choice here [at the Dream House] and the dignity of risk,” Jeffers said. “We want to walk alongside them, and whatever they allow us into their journey, it is so humbling.”

In 2020, the Dream House served 82 women. On a typical day, Jeffers said anywhere from one to 10 women will utilize the Dream House.

Most of the time, Jeffers said women utilize the Dream House between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and noon because they know that’s when lunch is about to happen.

“Part of everything that we do here is to help teach life skills, like how to be in relationships, healthy relationships, how to have healthy friendships, how to be in a house with other women you may not always like,” Jeffers said. “We do have a code of ethics of values that we hold in this house. Compassion and acceptance and recovery. Those kinds of values.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2019, 157 Indiana human trafficking cases were reported. Of the 157 cases reported that year in Indiana, 40 of those involved children.

Jeffers said the majority of women who come to the Dream House were also trafficked as children.

“We know who these women can be, who God created them to be. It’s just part of what we do and everything that we offer here is to show them that they are so worthy of more than what’s been done to them and more than what they’ve done,” Jeffers added.

Jeffers reiterated that while the Dream House is not a crisis center, it is a safe haven. The Dream House is open and available from Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

On Saturday, Aug. 28, a groundbreaking took place a few doors down from The Dream House. The Butterfly House, as it will be called when it’s completed, will serve as a residential facility for women who were sex trafficked and in recovery.

For more information about the Dream House, visit GritIntoGrace.org.