Dallas County

Will Dallas County's Treatment Center for Sex-Trafficking Victims Ever Actually Open?

Update at 4:43 p.m.: Dallas County Juvenile Department director Terry Smith sends her response: "Actually the county is ready to go and I am unaware of any issues."

Original post: Ground on the Letot Girls' Residential Therapy Center, the $9.8 million facility planned in Northwest Dallas for child sex trafficking victims, broke back in early September. It was initially slated for completion by the end of this year, but since those first few shovelfuls of dirt, progress halted.

"There are some glitches right now with the county," says Claudia Lopez, an office manager at the existing shelter. "Right now, everything is in limbo."

It's not a money thing, Lopez says. All construction costs are being funded by the Letot Center Capital Foundation, a nonprofit that's raised $8.9 million, or more than 90 percent of what's needed, according to a September article in the Morning News. And while operation of the center -- which, with 96 girls and 55,000 square feet, will be the largest facility of its kind in the country -- will fall on the county, it's already spending the estimated $2.1 million-per-year budget sending girls for treatment elsewhere.

Nor is there a question of need for long-term, residential treatment of the type the current shelter, which has a capacity of about 40 girls and will remain in operation, isn't equipped to offer. The county and Letot have long agreed on the need for a larger facility with more options for long-term treatment, and the Dallas Women's Foundation, which put up $1 million, and other donors have proved they're not alone.

Rather, Lopez says, the project has gotten caught in a messy Dallas County bureaucracy.

Dallas County commissioners are scheduled to be briefed on the project on Tuesday. The briefing pins the delay in starting construction on Letot's failure to raise the entire sum for construction, which has prompted it to seek an economic development agreement with the county. It's not clear from briefing materials what such an agreement would entail (we have an email in to Dallas County Juvenile Department director Terry Smith), and it's not clear why this wasn't done five months ago when ground was broken.

Lopez says they're ready to cut through the red tape and start construction. "We're praying for April," she says, but thinks that might be overly optimistic. With 18 months needed for construction, that would put Letot's opening in late 2014, a year after originally planned.