Shirley became a homeowner through an affordable housing program at HabiJax. | News4JaxShirley became a homeowner through an affordable housing program at HabiJax. | News4Jax
Shirley became a homeowner through an affordable housing program at HabiJax. | News4Jax

Human trafficking survivor buys home through HabiJax

Published on May 31, 2024 at 1:42 pm

A special home dedication celebration was held Friday morning in Murray Hill for a woman who thought she would never be able to buy a house.

“To be able to look back and see it, even though I did not see the hope then, now I know that it is real,” Shirley told News4Jax.

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Shirley is now a first-time homeowner through an affordable housing program from Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville, known as HabiJax.

She is also a human trafficking survivor and wants her story to inspire others.

Shirley, who asked to use only her first name for her protection, said she is full of gratitude and joy.

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“I don’t think it has really sunk in,” Shirley said as she gave News4JAX a tour of her new home. “It is like, ‘Is it true?’ I am just grateful for it.”

She said her experience spanned 10 years and also included almost 50 arrests.

“I left my marriage and my family because I wanted to go discover who I was,” Shirley said. “Not knowing who I was, I was unable to find that and the need to be loved. The want to be wanted overtook that. The drugs and alcohol outweighed everything. I surrendered and really wanted to start to live and asked for help. I wanted direction.”

Now she is in a position to help others.

Nearly a year ago, Shirley started the process of working her way to buying a house in Murray Hill through HabiJax’s affordable housing program.

She became the 11th woman to buy what is considered a “Women Build Home.”

Kevin Collison with HabiJax said Women Build is a movement to empower women to contribute to affordable housing solutions and help others along the way.

“Women Build highlights and showcases the work of women and the homeowners like Shirley who have overcome obstacles and found a stability in their life,” Collison said.

Collison said Shirley is a champion for others.

“Shirley’s attitude all along has not been looking out for herself, but setting an example for others,” Collison said. “Even as she celebrates this home, she is already encouraging fellow women who are recovering from exploitation that they can find the safety and instability of home.”

A group called “Arize Together” partnered with HabiJax on the build. It works with women recovering from human trafficking and assists them to find stable housing.

The co-founder, Chantelle Kammerdiener, said Shirley is an ambassador.

“Shirley is a remarkable person,” Kammerdiener said. “She is strong, and she inspires me personally. The way that she pours into people, I think she will inspire others and raise them up. She exudes gratitude, and she has worked hard in her recovery. I know that this has been working in her life for a while, and I am personally thrilled and excited to see this dream come true for Shirley.”

Since 2019, Shirley has been working with a local charity called Rethreaded, which works with human trafficking survivors through their recovery.

Shirley is still sprucing up her new space, which she hopes her children and grandkids will enjoy with her during visits.

“Starting out making the wrong choices and then going into that dark, dark place for so many years and not seeing a way out,” Shirley said of her difficult times. “But to come through to the other side and to be able to look back and go ‘God did that.’”

She is thankful for the hope she found and said the same hope is available to others who may be like her.

For those interested in possibly buying a home through HabiJax, you can visit its website.

This story was produced by News4Jax, a Jacksonville Today news partner.


author image Aaron Farrar joins News4Jax as a weekend morning reporter, after working a year at WFXR in Roanoke, Virginia, as a morning news reporter and primary fill-in anchor. Before that, he spent two years as a multimedia journalist at WTVC in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
author image Aaron Farrar joins News4Jax as a weekend morning reporter, after working a year at WFXR in Roanoke, Virginia, as a morning news reporter and primary fill-in anchor. Before that, he spent two years as a multimedia journalist at WTVC in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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