As we wrap up National Fair Housing Month, it's important to remember that housing instability creates many vulnerabilities for individuals, families, and entire communities -- including increased risk of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is the exploitation of an individual through force, fraud, or coercion for forced labor or commercial sex purposes. Traffickers are known to prey on the vulnerabilities of individuals that are experiencing poverty, homelessness, or are otherwise marginalized in society. Because of this, people from under-resourced communities are often some of the most vulnerable.
Some 64 percent of trafficked individuals reported having experienced homelessness or housing instability at the time that they were recruited, according to a study by Polaris, an organization fighting sex and labor trafficking. And Covenant House, an organization that provides housing and support for homeless youth, found that 68 percent of youth who were trafficked or engaged in survival sex had done so while experiencing homelessness.
Homeless and runaway youth experience the risk factors of trafficking at a higher rate, such as mental health issues, addiction, poverty, unemployment, and a history of abuse. As a result, they are more susceptible to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely to experience human trafficking as compared to their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. This is due in part to many of these individuals being rejected by their families and facing higher rates of discrimination, violence, and economic instability.
Having access to stable and safe housing is essential for survivors of human trafficking as they exit their trafficking situation. While options such as emergency housing and shelters can provide temporary relief, these short-term options have limited space and funding, and survivors are often left homeless once their stay has ended.
At the United Way Center to Combat Human Trafficking, we recognize the importance of addressing this intersection and are proud to support and fund programs that do the same. For instance, United Way of Greater Atlanta has made great strides in the fight to end homelessness by using a trauma-informed and culturally competent approach. United Way recognizes that the path to permanent housing looks different from person to person, so they partner with a wide array of programs that can support people of all backgrounds. United Way considers the varying experiences of human trafficking survivors, immigrants, refugees, and first-generation individuals by connecting them with specific programs and communities where they can have access to stable housing in areas where people speak their native language.
United Way of Greater Atlanta also provides housing vouchers to survivors of human trafficking, which fund a portion of survivors’ rent as they establish their own financial stability. Through this innovative “step-down model,” United Way gradually reduces the rent support each month as the beneficiary becomes more financially independent. In addition to providing their own services, United Way has developed many partnerships in the community that continue to support individuals that are experiencing homelessness and human trafficking, including a program that pays the move-in fees and/or first month of rent for survivors who go straight into permanent housing options, as these fees can be a barrier to having stable housing.
Homelessness is a complex issue, without singular root causes or solutions. There are many ways that community members can work to prevent homelessness and, in turn, help reduce the risk of human trafficking. Affordable housing is a significant barrier to being housed that affects individuals in every community. Community members can advocate for renter protection laws and their enforcement. These laws can help those at risk of eviction, assist with rent control, and promote equity in housing practices and initiatives. There should also be a greater focus on communities of color and under-resourced communities in order to work to prevent homelessness overall.
One important policy strategy that's coming into play to combat human trafficking is a state safe harbor law. Safe harbor laws provide legal protections and access to specialized services that treats minors that were exploited for commercial sex as victims rather than criminals. Unfortunately, many survivors experience credit and identity fraud, previous evictions, broken leases, and financial instability while being exploited which can affect their likelihood of being approved for housing applications. Advocating for short- and long-term transitional programs that allow survivors to seek a full recovery from their trauma and work to connect survivors with permanent housing opportunities is essential for a survivor’s re-integration into society.
United Way is pushing hard at the state and local level for meaningful change, too. After realizing that young women were being trafficked through Georgia, United Way of Greater Atlanta and its women volunteers, Women United, fought to get an initiative on the statewide ballot. Women United took on the challenge of educating Georgia citizens that despite its global reach, human trafficking takes place locally. In 2016, Georgia voters passed the State Constitutional Amendment for the Safe Harbor for Sexual Exploited Children Fund. This created a dedicated source of funding to support minors who are survivors of sex trafficking, and supports restorative services like safe housing, trauma counseling and medical treatment.
You can be part of solutions like this, working for fair housing to increase quality of life and reduce susceptibility to violence and human trafficking. Contact your local to find out what they're doing to support affordable housing.
Learn more about human trafficking from the United Way Center to Combat Human Trafficking, and these resources: