A Phoenix nonprofit that helps victims of human trafficking has taken ownership of a massive compound of homes in Colorado City. The 3-acre property was once owned by the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints Church and served as the private sanctuary for infamous polygamous leader Warren Jeffs and his many wives.
Jeffs was convicted of child sex assault in 2011. The property was legally transferred to Briell Decker, the 65th wife of Jeffs. This year Decker gifted the property – containing three spacious homes with 50 bedrooms between them -- to the Phoenix Dream Center, which is part of a network of Dream Center facilities globally.
“It’s my dream to see this compound turned into a safe house and a refuge for victims,” writes Decker on a website about the complex. “A place where they can heal, grow, get educated and find their strength and happiness.”
Like many women raised in Colorado City's FLDS church, Decker was coerced into plural marriage as a young woman. Decker is now re-married and leading an effort to help victims, many who were victims of sexual trauma.
The property's main house is three stories high and 27,000 square feet. Two other houses on the property are more than 5,000 square feet each. Among the three houses, there are three industrial kitchens and several large meeting rooms. There is a courtyard, garden and sports facilities.
“It’s a beautiful setting. It’s the tip of Zion National Park so it’s very therapeutic setting up there,” said Brian Steele, CEO of the Phoenix Dream Center, who is spearheading the transformation. “It’s almost as if the property was built for human services, social services.” Steel is also a member of Governor Doug Ducey’s Human Trafficking Council.
The compound is named the Short Creek Dream Center. Short Creek is a term that describes the region surrounding Colorado City along the Utah Arizona border.
Worldwide, the Dream Center nonprofit organization has a network of 267 facilities that provide shelter, medical care and social services. Eight locations are in Arizona. None have the kind of backstory of the new Colorado City shelter.
“It’s not a normal community up there. It’s a community with a history many of us wouldn't be able to really understand,” Steele said.
During Warren Jeffs’ rule as spiritual leader of more than 10,000 residents of the remote community, he lived on the compound with dozens of his wives and their children. The walls shrouded the property in secrecy. News reporters who drove near the property were targets of surveillance cameras and roving security guards in SUV’s. In many ways, the compound represented the protective, isolated nature of Warren Jeffs’ church.
Video and photos documenting the compound were provided to 12 News by the Phoenix Dream Center. A motto is displayed prominently on the exterior of one building: Pray and Obey.
As prophet, Jeffs forced young teen girls into marriages with much older men. He abruptly reassigned wives and children to other men, tearing apart families. He ordered teenage boys to be banished from the community, a move that critics said was meant to eliminate competition with the polygamous elders. FLDS youth were often taken out of formal schooling and forced to work.
Activists say an entire generation of Colorado City’s residents is attempting to recover from the consequences of Jeffs’ decisions.
“They're searching for themselves, searching for a new identity,” Steele said. "There's just this immense sense of re-birth in that community."
The Short Creek Dream Center will also provide trauma therapy, drug rehabilitation, and life skills training. Steele estimates when the program is fully staffed, it will cost about $480,000 annually to operate. Anyone interested in donating resources or money should refer to the Phoenix Dream Center website.
“Young girls were often pulled from school by the 6th grade. A lot of our programs are just geared towards preparing them for resumes, high school diplomas and getting into the real world and work force,” Steele said.