Bob Williams always envisioned adding a safe house to his Ranch Hands Rescue Counseling Center and Animal Sanctuary. While he originally planned it to host veterans and be separate from his current facilities, once he realized the scope of the commercial sexual exploitation trade and the lack of places for men over 18 to stay, plus the residuals of the COVID-19 pandemic, he changed his plans.
The result is converting the organization’s four-year-old headquarters on Hwy 377 between Denton and Argyle into Bob’s House of Hope. It will be the first long-term safe house in the country exclusively catering to male victims of sex trafficking 18-24 years old, according to the president and chief executive officer.
“COVID has been a blessing and a curse,” he said. “The curse is donations are down for all of us so there’s been significant budget cuts. The blessing is my office staff have exceeded my expectations when it comes to working from home. In fact, I think they’ve worked harder so they are getting more work done.
“Our building sat empty since March 15, so I decided with the board of directors that it would be perfect to keep our staff working from home and convert this space to a safe house for 18-24 year olds.”
Bob’s House of Hope will provide 24-hour care seven days a week for up to six residents. They will receive their counseling treatments down the road in Argyle where most of Ranch Hands’ animals reside. Equine and animal assisted counseling is RHR’s flagship program and a key part of the recovery plan for these young men.
Williams and Landon Dickeson, Ranch Hand’s Director of Clinical Services, are preparing for a two-year, long-term care program.
“My personal belief is you can’t put these kids in here for six months with the trauma and things they’ve been through,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of challenges with the brainwashing, drug and alcohol addiction, the trauma they go through.”
According to the Society for the Study of Addiction, more than 80 percent of those in recovery will relapse within the first year which means they go in and out of treatment programs.
“What we’re trying to do is take what would be 10 years of therapy and compressing it into two, because what happens to people with what we call complex trauma is they hop around from program to program, so most that I see have been in treatment six, seven plus times over the course of 5-10 years,” Dickeson said. “It’s going to be the same with these kids. They are used to hopping from medical healthcare to all over for services.”
The City of Denton approved the project on Oct. 23 paving the way to apply for permits and starting construction with the goal of serving clients early in 2021. The building already has a kitchen, and the offices will be converted to bedrooms with the outdoor patio enclosed as well.
“I always envisioned Ranch Hands Rescue would be a 360-degree program,” Williams said. “We’ve figured out the animal piece. We’ve figured out the counseling piece. And we’ve figured out now the residential piece.
“I never wanted to recreate the wheel. With animals they call throwaways – the ones nobody else wanted – all with special needs, I felt their life was just as important as healthy animals. With the counseling program it always was where can the people go when they can’t be helped, so it was focusing on those who needed the more creative and proactive approach to mental health. Now it is the same with the safe house component. There isn’t one for young men who have been sex trafficking victims, and we’ll fill that need.”
Williams hopes to tap into a growing array of partnerships with other organizations. His biggest need is donated materials and time and money, especially for fencing and security cameras to install the six-foot fences and electronic surveillance systems around the property.
He continues to be part of a task force organized early last year by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to start a dialogue about human trafficking and bring awareness to the international epidemic. In fact, there were nearly 6,000 reported cases of sex trafficking in Texas alone last year, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Williams also partners with law enforcement officers who call him weekly with potential victims in need of help, including a 23-year-old San Antonio man sex-trafficked by his parents.
“We know the numbers in these statistics are under reported, especially for boys, and that’s why we are working to bring awareness that boys are sex trafficked too,” Williams said.
“People need to understand this issue is real, and that it’s our moral obligation to take care of these young men. I think we can help them, and that’s what we’re all about, helping as many people as we can.
“We’ll have a mentoring program to leverage our veterans. We’ll have a grandparenting program and put God in their life. It’s very important to be a faith-based ministry which won’t be easy with what these kids have been through, but I think we can do it.”
Williams is certain that Denton County can be the first place to help these young men, and that Ranch Hands Rescue can build a model that others can learn from so that these innocent victims have a place to go where they can heal.
“We will fill that void and help as many as we can,” said Williams. “This needs to be their safe space, their home where they are safe and protected.”
Find out more at www.ranchhandsrescue.com.