Homeless Youth Prone to Trafficking; No End in Sight

The trafficking of young adults is not only a problem in poverty-stricken, developing nations, as the increased reporting and awareness in the United States and other developed countries suggests.

Current studies indicate that the key to ending trafficking of young adults is to first eradicate youth homelessness.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released a new federal strategic plan geared toward preventing and ending homelessness at a White House ceremony on June 22, 2010. The Secretaries of the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Veterans Affairs unveiled Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness together.

The Plan, the first comprehensive federal effort developed to prevent and end homelessness, focuses on four key goals: finish the job of ending chronic homelessness in five years, prevent and end homelessness among Veterans in five years and for families and youth in 10 years, and set a path to ending all types of homelessness.

In June 2015, Opening Doors was amended to reaffirm the strategies that continue to prove effective in preventing and ending homelessness and include additional strategies that further strengthen its value as a living blueprint for action.

The amended plan includes increasing leadership, collaboration and civic engagement, increasing access to stable and affordable housing, increasing economic security, improving health and stability, and retooling the homeless crisis response system.

The USICH states that an end to homelessness means that every community will have a comprehensive response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible, or if it cannot be prevented, it is a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.

Specifically, the USICH states that every community will have the capacity to quickly identify and engage people at risk of and experiencing homelessness, intervene to prevent people from losing their housing and divert people from entering the homelessness services system.

Further, the plan promises to provide people with immediate access to shelter and crisis services without barriers to entry if homelessness does occur, and quickly connect them to housing assistance and services tailored to their unique needs and strengths to help them achieve and maintain stable housing.

“Both trauma-informed care and positive youth development provide essential frameworks for understanding the context in which young people’s outcomes can improve,” said Matthew Doherty, USICH Executive Director. “Reliable screening and assessment of trauma, social-emotional functioning, health, and other behavioral needs are central to an intervention model that incorporates risk and protective factors.”

“Further,” Doherty said, “with well-implemented screening and assessment processes and tools, systems and programs can better respond to the specific needs and strengths of youth who experience homelessness and can better serve as pathways to get to better outcomes in stable housing, permanent connections, education or employment, and well-being.”

In February 2017, President Donald Trump described human trafficking as an “epidemic.” But the president’s 2018 budget request for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development proposes a $6.2 billion, or 13.2 percent, decrease, which will further erode the safety net for homeless youth in the United States.

“Ending homelessness among America’s youth is achievable,” said Matthew Doherty, USICH Executive Director. “When Congress invested in effective, targeted homeless assistance to veterans over the last seven years under the Obama Administration, the nation witnessed an eye-popping 47 percent reduction in veteran homelessness from 2010 to 2016, including a remarkable 17 percent reduction in 2015 alone.”

Chronic homelessness also decreased 27 percent when Congress prioritized it, and family homelessness dropped by 23 percent, with a 65 percent drop in families living on the street, according to the 2015 Federal Strategic Plan.

But in the past three years, the number of unaccompanied homeless youth in the United States rose. The National Network for Youth estimates at least 1 million youth experience one night of homelessness each year, and more than 550,000 youth are homeless for a week or longer.

“Though it is hard to get precise numbers, researchers estimate that LGBTQ youth make up 20–40 percent of the homeless youth population but only 4–10 percent of the general youth population,” said Jim Miller, USICH researcher. “we must continue to tailor and target our strategies. We must all do more to make sure that LGBTQ youth can find support.”

According to the Opening Doors amended report from 2015, the rising number of homeless youth, especially LGBTQ youth, is a call for a new front in the war against human trafficking. A comprehensive campaign to end trafficking starts with strengthening the housing safety net for youth, but it does not stop there.

“The nation must also tackle child abuse and how foster care systems respond to that trauma,” said Peggy Healy, senior vice president of Covenant House.

In interviews with young people in three of the cities studied – Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. – researchers found that child abuse and neglect correlated strongly with human trafficking. In those cities, 95 percent of the young people who had been trafficked reported being maltreated as children, with 49 percent reporting childhood sexual abuse.

“The most effective ways to reduce human trafficking among vulnerable young people is to reduce their vulnerability by ensuring they have a safe place to stay,” said Kevin Ryan, CEO of Covenant House.

“Policymakers from both parties continue to think of trafficked youth and homeless youth as distinct,” Ryan further stated. “In many instances, they are the same teenagers, and efforts to eliminate exploitation must address the circumstances that make them susceptible to it.”

Covenant House, the largest privately funded charity in the U.S. dedicated to serving homeless youth and ending child trafficking in 30 cities across six countries, is joining with thousands of advocates from the National Network for Youth to ask the president and leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to end youth homelessness in the U.S.

Covenant House is expanding the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Youth’s Homelessness Demonstration Project grants, which launched recently and support comprehensive strategies to end youth homelessness in 10 pilot communities across the country from Anchorage, Alaska to Austin, Texas, and California to Connecticut.

“Too many youths are desperate and alone on the streets. Homelessness makes them vulnerable to traffickers,” said Ryan. “We don’t have to live in a world where desperate kids are bought and sold. If we want to reduce the number of youth who are trafficked, we have to end youth homelessness. We can, we must, and we should.”

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