Legislative committee recommends $1.5M for human trafficking victim services

Bismarck, ND (January 15th, 2019) – A North Dakota legislative committee unanimously recommended $1.5 million in state funding to combat human trafficking after hearing on Tuesday from service providers who have helped victims around the state.

The North Dakota Human Trafficking Task Force has served 242 victims of human trafficking from 2016 through September 2018, but representatives said the actual number of victims is higher.

One-fourth of the victims were youth and about 80 percent of the cases involved sex trafficking.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem testified in support of Senate Bill 2159, which would dedicate funding through his office to support victims, provide training, assist investigations and work on prevention.

“We cannot let up on the strides we have made on the efforts to combat human trafficking in North Dakota,” Stenehjem told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Jessica Thomasson, CEO of Lutheran Social Services, told legislators that the nonprofit has identified sex trafficking victims who are residents of the program’s affordable housing units, particularly in western North Dakota.

As a landlord, the agency has encountered situations that on the surface looked like a problem tenant, but increased awareness about human trafficking helped property managers recognize warning signs, Thomasson said.

“When you really begin to understand what is going on in that woman’s and that family’s life, sometimes you find that they’re a victim of trafficking,” Thomasson said.

Because of the Human Trafficking Task Force that the state formed in 2015, Lutheran Social Services has been able to connect tenants with victim services.

North Dakota legislators first approved funding for human trafficking victims in 2015, dedicating $1.25 million for 2015-17. That launched the task force, a coordinated network that involves victim service providers and law enforcement agencies from around the state.

Funding was reduced to $825,000 in 2017 when less state funds were available. Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, the primary sponsor of the bill, is advocating for the level of funding to be restored.

Sgt. Mike Bolme of the Bismarck Police Department testified that the state’s task force allows law enforcement to work with case managers to help victims turn their lives around while also getting victims’ cooperation to prosecute traffickers. The funding also supports a demand reduction program.

“Our holistic approach gets help for the victims, changes the mindset of the purchasers and targets the traffickers,” Bolme told legislators.

Sheridan McNeil, of Cannon Ball, testified in favor of House Bill 1311, a bill relating to law enforcement training on missing and murdered indigenous people. If enacted, the bill would require an annual report to the governor, attorney general and Legislature on human trafficking in North Dakota. McNeil said she is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and works at United Tribes as director of Career and Technical Education.

Also Tuesday, members of the House Human Services Committee heard testimony in support of a bill that would promote law enforcement training on missing and murdered indigenous people. The training would become part of the training already offered through the attorney general and the Human Trafficking Commission.

Sheridan McNeil, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was among those who testified in support of the bill.

“All we’re asking for is just to include our people,” McNeil said. “By that inclusion of our people, we’re going to create a more united North Dakota.”

The committee didn’t take action on the bill.



Bismarck, ND (August 29, 2018) – Youthworks has received a $4,490 grant provided by the Taco Bell Foundation to support more than 30 youth in the Bismarck-Mandan community. The funding will go towards the New Direction program in Bismarck/Mandan, ND. New Direction is an after-school program providing homework assistance, mentoring, recreation, snacks, and a meal to High School Native American youth at-risk of failing in school. Programming is designed to enable and inspire teens to graduate high school and reach their full potential.

“We are thrilled to play a part in the Taco Bell Foundation’s investment in America’s youth,” said Mark Heinert, Program Manager of Youthworks. “We are excited to partner with another organization committed to championing education and empowering this nation’s next generation of leaders, you know there’s a special energy there. This mission we’re sharing is one with an enormous upside for our young people, our communities, and our country at large.”

Youthworks is one of more than 350 youth-serving organizations that will receive a portion of the $5 million in grants being presented by the Taco Bell Foundation’s philanthropic arm this year. The awarded grants are an example of the Taco Bell Foundation’s goal to empower young people to channel their passions and go on to achieve their dreams.

“Young people have always been the heart and soul of our brand,” said Frank Tucker, Chief People Officer at Taco Bell and President of the Taco Bell Foundation. “Expanding our impact in this community is one of the best ways we can support the passions of young people and create opportunities that help them unlock and reach their potential.”

About Taco Bell Foundation
Taco Bell Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) public charity that helps America’s young people follow their dreams and reach their full potential. Since 1992, the Taco Bell Foundation has helped more than 3.5 million youth across the country and has awarded more than $72 million in grants and scholarships, focused on education and career readiness. In 2015, Taco Bell and the Taco Bell Foundation launched the Live Más Scholarship, a program aimed at empowering the nation’s next generation of dreamers, innovators and creators – those whose passions don’t fall into the conventional “academic” or “athletic” qualifying categories of traditional scholarship programs. In May of 2018, the Taco Bell Foundation awarded more than 300 employees and other deserving recipients with $3 million in Live Más Scholarships. For more information visit TacoBellFoundation.org.

Youthworks receives grant of $150,000 from the Otto Bremer Trust for transitional living program for homeless youth.

Youthworks receives grant of $150,000 from the Otto Bremer Trust for transitional living program for homeless youth.

Bismarck, North Dakota, (May 9, 2018) – Youthworks in North Dakota recently received a grant in the amount of $150,000 from Otto Bremer Trust to support their Transitional Living Program for homeless youth ages 18-21.

In 2017, Youthworks provided housing for 90 homeless youth. An additional 150 youth received support services and case management. Youthworks transitional living program helps individuals make the transition to independence through support and assistance with housing, education and independent living skills and employment.

“This is an investment in the youth of our community which will positively impact the lives of homeless youth throughout North Dakota,” said to Mark Heinert, Program Manager at Youthworks. “It is also a very sound financial investment in our state. Each youth that our program can help transition to independence will result in a cost savings (for tax payers) of more than $200,000 over the course of the lifetime of the youth. This can be seen in lower emergency room visits, lower incarceration rates, and less reliance on social welfare programs.”

For more than 30 years Youthworks has been successfully sheltering homeless youth in North Dakota. Without the help of the Otto Bremer Trust, 51 homeless youth would have found themselves without a safe place to sleep and without the essential services they need to transition into healthy adulthood.  “On behalf of the homeless youth we serve, we are extremely grateful to the Foundation for their partnership and commitment to serve homeless youth in North Dakota,” said Melanie Heitkamp, Executive Director at Youthworks.

Youthworks will be able to continue to provide these services and housing in 2018 thanks to the Otto Bremer Trust.

About the Otto Bremer Trust:
The Otto Bremer Trust, based in St. Paul, Minn., is a private charitable turst established in 1944 by founder Otto Bremer, a successful banker and community business leader. ODT owns 92 percent of Bremer Bank and also manages a diversified investment portfolio. The mission of OTB is to invest in people, places and opportunities in the Upper Midwest. Since its inception, OBT has invested more than $600 million in organizations throughout Minnesota, North Dakota, and western Wisconsin. Visit ottobremmer.org.