15 – Homelessness and Human Trafficking: How They Connect

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Sandra Morgan and Dave Stachowiak discuss how homelessness is a factor that can lead a person to become a victim of trafficking. They take a look at the statistics of youth who are homeless and how it relates to human trafficking discussing what we can do to help.

Key Points

  • 1.3 million runaway homeless youth live in America.
  • 57% of homeless kids spend at least one day every month without food.
  • 25% of foster kids become homeless within two years of leaving the system.
  • 4 distinct homeless youth populations: Runaway minors, expelled youth, system youth, and street youth.
  • It’s about survival, when someone offers youth an opportunity to make money or offers them a place to sleep, the kids will do what they can to survive.
  • 55% of street girls engage in some form of commercial sexual exploitation.
  • 1 in 5 become entangled in some sort of organized crime network.


[Note from the Ending Human Trafficking podcast team: This episode was recorded in 2011 so the contact information provided is no longer accurate. Please refer endinghumantrafficking.org/contact for the correct contact information to get in touch with the EHT podcast.]

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Dave: You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast; this is episode number 15, recorded in October 2011. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast, my name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, we are back today to talk about another lens to look through prevention of human trafficking with, and that is the lens of homelessness, and homelessness is unfortunately a major factor and a contributing factor in many cases, the start of the human trafficking chain that we’ve talked about many times before.

Sandie: Homelessness is a contributing factor; it’s a precursor, it’s part of the pool of easily assessable victims that traffickers have to draw from.

Dave: SO before we jump in and talk about homelessness and how homelessness becomes a factor in human trafficking, Sandie, a couple of things for our audience to know up front is were talking about this topic today, you inevitably will have some questions for us, and we have a number of questions from our audience here today that we’ll address in our show today from your past feedback, but if you have questions for us, you should hop onto email and send us an email to GCWJ@vanguard.edu and that goes directly to Sandie’s office at the Global Center for Women and Justice here at Vanguard University, and of course you are able to call in with a question too, and Sandie, folk can reach us by phone at?

Sandie: (714) 556-3610 ext. 2242. Leave us a voicemail and we will get back to you.

Dave: There are also a couple of things coming up that the Center is involved with, Sandie, that we should let folks know about, one of them is, there is a web-x online now about community engagement. Could you share just a little bit more about that?

Sandie: We were asked to do national web-x training for the best practices for community engagement by the Health and Human Services anti-human trafficking office in Washington.  That web-x is now available online, you can go and listen and watch the PowerPoint and get some tips.

Dave: And that’s on our website at GCWJ.vanguard.edu. You can find the Global Center for Women and Justice page there, the other thing you will find is information on the upcoming solidarity sleep-out, and that’s actually coming up here in Southern California on November 18th, and 19th, and Sandie you are involved in this in a big way.

Sandie: Oh, you better believe it. I am going to sleep outside with all of our Vanguard students who are working very hard to spread awareness for the issue of homeless youth, and so were going to start at 7pm, we’ll have a program to draw more attention to this problem, and we are going to stay outside and not go home to sleep in our comfortable beds.

Dave: And the hope for this event is that it will raise awareness for what its like to be in that position in life where you don’t have a place to call home.

Sandie: And to understand how many young people are in this situation and that there are things we can do to change that. This is also a fundraising opportunity so that we can provide resources to homeless youth in our own county.

Dave: And if you are interested in supporting Sandie, there is actually a way that you can do that, because she is going to be taking her time to go out and to sleep out and the funds for this, Sandie, does it go towards the Center?

Sandie: It goes to the Live2Free team that has a homeless youth project, where they are going to provide backpacks with sweats and personal hygiene items for juvenile victims of homelessness.

Dave: And regular listeners of this podcast will remember that we’ve had Live2Free members here on the podcast in the past, so it’s a wonderful organization to support and they’ve been doing tremendous things in the community to support all of our friends in our community so we can do a lot to support them, and so if you would like to support Sandie on her sleep-out November 18th and 19ths, one, you can go online at the Global Center website and join us in person if you’d like, or if you aren’t local, you can actually visit the website for the event and that’s at solidaritysleepout.org, and if you search for Sandie’s name you can actually see her listed, and you can actually make a donation to fund her. So, Sandie’s last name is Morgan, so I just went online and found her and might be funding you as well, Sandie.

Sandie: Oh, that would be great, Dave. I’m really excited about sleeping outside under the stars on a piece of cardboard, and I have been promised that someone is going to go around and collect day old pastries so that we’ll have breakfast in the morning. Isn’t that exciting?

Dave: It’s exciting that were doing things to educate ourselves and to build our perspective as to what its like to be in that situation, and then at the same time is equally sad and disheartening that there are so many people in that situation and even more unfortunate Sandie, is folks who are homeless, often that is the beginning of the path that can lead to them getting into something like human trafficking.

Sandie: Exactly, and that’s really what we want to talk about today, the link between homelessness and commercial sexual exploitation, particularly, but also labor exploitation and when we go back to 101, we know its through force, fraud or coercion that someone is used, recruited, transported in order to provide forced labor or commercial sex acts. So we find both kids of trafficking among homeless youth and homeless people because of their vulnerable circumstances and its probably a pretty shocking thing for you, Dave, being a resident of California, to learn that according to the February 2011 homeless report, we have 200,000 homeless youth between 12 and 17 in California.

Dave: It’s just an incredible statistic to wrap one’s mind around, and it is really hard to imagine that many homeless here, it’s just a really sad statistic.

Sandie: And the statistics on the solidarity sleep website come from the National Clearing House on Families and Youth, which is a website that is sponsored and supported by the Administration on Children and Family in Health and Human Services in Washington, and their statistics are pretty shocking, every day approximately 1.3 million run away, throw away and homeless youth live on the streets of America. Every day children both boys and girls are solicited for sex, within 72 hours of being on the street, and according to this report, 55% of street girls engage in some form of commercial sexual exploitation. 75% work for a pimp, and 1 in 5 becomes entangled in some kind of organized crime network that is forced to travel far from home and the area where they initially involved in this. According to another report from the Covenant House that has been the leader on organizing this sleep-out, 50% of homeless kids spend at least one day a month without food. They are hungry. And in the United States, the statistics are very difficult to ascertain how many kids are being used in commercial sex or as many people call it, forced prostitution, but we want to use language that identifies their experience of being exploited, so we want to talk about commercial sexual exploitation. Someone else is selling our kids to make money.

Dave: Sandie, I think many people, as sad as the statistics are around homelessness, people wouldn’t be surprised to hear that there are homeless people in California or any other state, and certainly this is a problem that’s not unique to the US either, this is a problem around the world, and of course the listeners of this podcast wouldn’t be surprised to hear that human trafficking is present just about anywhere in the world in some form. What I do think people may not be aware of and I had not thought about this until we were talking about the topic today, Sandie, that you had brought in is how the two link together, and I’m not sure that is something that would be clear to us, and I know it wasn’t clear to me, so how does homelessness lead to human trafficking, or vice versa and how do those fit together.

Sandie: Well, when you look at the statistic, 50% of these kids don’t have any food for at least one day a month. They live hand to mouth every day, so it’s about survival on the street. So when someone offers them an opportunity to make some money, and these are kids who don’t have the capacity to get to a job, they don’t have a car, they don’t have a place from which to get cleaned up and dressed and a mom that’s doing their laundry for them, so they cant even take that flipping burgers job, how are they going to get there, how are they going to be presentable, so when they get offered a job, for instance, selling magazine subscriptions door to door, this is a very common practice for recruiting homeless youth, they’re in a van, and they go from neighborhood to neighborhood, and when they become non-compliant, they get abandoned, far from any resources that they might have had in their hometown. So traffickers take advantage of that vulnerability, offer them a job that may sound at least a little bit attractive, offer them a roof over their head, a place to sleep, remember the story of the 14 year old that was sleeping on a park bench.

Dave: I sure do.

Sandie: And was succumbed to a trafficker who groomed her and seasoned her to sell her for commercial sex. That was his business and he did that regularly, and he targeted lonely parks at night, bus stations and the blocks around low-income schools.

Dave: So, if were interested in preventing this from happening in the first place, which of course we are, Sandie, how does the pipeline of people coming in who start off as a homeless person and then unfortunately are a victim of opportunity.

Sandie: That is a great question, because for the people listening to this podcast, I hope by now that you are a firm believer in the prevention of human trafficking, so if we understand how these kids are ending up on the street, if we can begin to take actions that may not look like were fighting human trafficking, but we will really be doing frontline work. So the question, how do these kids get there? There are different research projects, one that was done among kids who were sleeping in the Covenant House Institute revealed that 41% of these kids had witnessed acts of violence in their homes and they were running away to escape that, 38% indicated someone in their family used drugs regularly, and we already know that if there was a family member abusing substances, that puts a child at risk for being exploited, 19% of these kids had been beaten with an object, 19% of the kids in this study had endured sexual abuse and 15% had been present when someone close to them was murdered.

Dave: Incredible.

Sandie: In more of our statistics from the Administration of Children and Family, 25% of foster children become homeless within 2 to 4 years of leaving the system, and in another study, 50% of adolescents that age out of foster care of juvenile justice systems are homeless within 6 months because they are unprepared to live independently and have limited education and no social support. Did you know, Dave, that we have preschools for homeless children?
Dave: Really? No, I didn’t know that.

Sandie: It’s like, can you imagine a 3 or 4 or 5-year-old homeless child that goes to preschool? Why are 3, 4 and 5 year old homeless? Many of the youth that are homeless are homeless because they were rejected by a pregnant or guardian because of pregnancy, and not they are alone on the streets and they have a new baby that they are also trying to feed, so if 57% of these kids are hungry one day, how many of those kids are kids who have kids of their own?

Dave: Yeah, Sandie it’s a blessing and sometimes a challenge being involved and hosting this podcast with you, the blessing is certainly that our audience feels more educated every time we have a conversation, at the same time it’s a challenge because it really does force us to open our eyes to what is going on around us, and also, these very unfortunate situations that our community neighbors are in.

Sandie: We drive by it, every day. Or sometimes we actually walk by this issue.

Dave: And certainly, at one point or another we have all seen this.

Sandie: And how do we do something that’s more meaningful than buying a meal, but something more long term. I think it would begin to help us to identify where we can plug in as a professional in our community, as a member of a church or a member of a non-profit.

Dave: That’s exactly what I was about to ask. How can we help, really?

Sandie: Here is something… our whole idea is to study the issue, be a voice so you can make a difference. If you don’t study first, you might say the wrong thing, and if you don’t study you don’t know what to do. So what I wanted to find out is how we break down the homeless youth population. I was able to determine through the California Homeless Youth Project, which is housed under the California Research Bureau, that we have four distinct homeless youth populations. We have runaway minors, and they left home for one or more nights without permission. Now in the Juvenile Justice System, we are beginning to understand that a child that has been a runaway at least 3 to 4 times is much more likely to become a victim of commercial sexual exploitation, human trafficking. The second group is expelled youth. These are youth that have been told to leave home. The caretaker in that environment can no longer tolerate whatever the issues are, and so they are abandoned, deserted, or even prevented from returning home. The third group is the systems youth. These are kids who have aged out of foster care or have been released from juvenile justice; they may even have been emancipated minors. They have nowhere to go. There are two distinct age groups of homeless youth. One of the group that are 12 to 17, those are the runaway minors. 18-24 is still a part of the homeless youth issue, because they have often been in a system that has not adequately equipped them for independent living. The fourth group of homeless, which is long-term homeless, is the street-youth. Those are the kids that spend a significant amount of time in places that increase their risk for sexual abuse, exploitation and drug abuse, and they are generally not connected with any services and are homeless upwards of two years.

Dave: Wow, incredible.

Sandie: So, what can we begin to do? Well, one of the things that we need to begin to do is connect the dots, when you are involved in education, find out who your school homeless liaison is… The first time I found out there was someone with that actual job title; I had to go find them to make sure they weren’t just teasing me, because the idea of a homeless student just didn’t compute. But every school district in California has a homeless student liaison, and that’s because students have a right to education.

Dave: Sure, of course.

Sandie: And so, we want to help homeless students finish their education and how can we do that? We have to have someone who is managing staying in connection with them. But how do you stay in connection to someone that doesn’t have an address?

How do you help someone without the kind of resources that they need? Probably one of the myths out there is that we do have a system and that it provides for all of these kids, but the truth is that we don’t and many of these kids fall between the cracks. The foster system, right now if you read the literature and go on Google and check this out, you will find that there is a movement to really step up how we do foster care and create a much stronger model and there is special training for parents who will take victims of human trafficking, who will take victims who have been sexually abused, victims whoa re really the most vulnerable of our homeless population. This is an important aspect in curbing this exploitation of our kids. Another area that I’m very excited about in our next podcast, because were having an expert come and talk to us about the relationship between street gangs and trafficking, you can already imagine how gangs can take advantage of homeless youth who have nowhere to turn and are looking for that sense of having a family. When we talk about how homeless youth become victims, there are several ways that that happens. Sometimes it happens just because the trafficker, usually a pimp, usually male, is looking for girls to add to his business model, usually he has 2 or 3 girls, and when he does that he usually uses the Romeo pattern, where is going to make her feel like she is his girlfriend and that he is going to take care of her, and as he grooms her, and seasons her, eventually she becomes very, very profitable for her, and when she is used up and sick, then she abandons her, and she is now homeless and broken, and for us to look at education as a way of looking at is it one avenue but another way to see these victims is in our community healthcare programs, these kids present with lots of respiratory illnesses in the winter and lots of STDs, sexually transmitted diseases, and when I was speaking to one Southern California pediatrician, they are alarmed at the increase of HIV aids among this population between 12 and 17, and attribute it largely to the homeless youth population issue.

Dave: Just today, so many different difficult aspects to address, Sandie, and for those in addition to some of the ones you’ve mentioned that might be some bigger action they can take, are there some smaller things? Just some every day type things we can do or keep in mind around taking the first step to prevent homelessness.

Sandie: Well, I think learning what kinds of resources are available to homeless youth in your area, and having that information to give to a young person if you happen to see them when you are passing them, and you can get that information from your county offices, for child welfare, and some people do want to be more hands-on, they want to be more involved, and there are some good practices if you want to be more involved in actually making contact with students, and you know that my first stop is to check in with your local police, and find out what the protocols are, build relationships with them, find out what kid of training they offer in outreach to youth who are involved in sexual exploitation, more and more there are task forces and community coalitions to address this. Find out what kinds of services are available, and what are the gaps? There are a lot of groups that are starting human trafficking works and they want to have a shelter for human trafficking victims, what we if diverted some of that resource to housing for emancipated minors, or recently aged-out foster kids so that they have a place to go for transitional living?

Dave: And that has the potential to stop the trafficking before it even happens, so it goes back to that prevention conversation we’ve had a lot. Gosh, so many important things for us to consider and look at, big ways and small ways we can help in order to really reach out to this population, and speaking of some of these tools and resources, we’ve actually had a couple people who have called in or emailed us on some of the topics we’ve had in the past, so since we just have a few minutes left, I’m going to jump in here and we have, first of all, a voicemail, and I know this is a question that’s come to you often, its something that has received a lot of play in the media, and its something that people have strong feelings about, and I know you have some thoughts about it too, so let me go ahead and play the message first then we will have you address it, Sandie.

Voicemail: Hello Sandie, this is (inaudible), I’ve been listening to your podcast since the beginning and I just want to thank you and Dave for doing this, it’s very educational and instructive and very helpful, although I have a question about legalizing commercial sex exploitation of women. I have been reading a lot about it, and its something I have been introducing in my class, it seems that in some culture, its seen as not as a bad thing, but not as a positive, but not also bad. For instance, as in India, the culture doesn’t… well, my question is, who decides the legalization, of you know, activities like those, and should we also take into account the cultural background of that country, or region, and the way they look at those types of activities, thank you very much, and again, thank you for doing what you are doing. Thank you. Bye.

Dave: Well, thank you so much first of all for calling in, because this is an important question for us to address, Sandie.

Sandie: And legalizing prostitution is definitely a question that comes up frequently, its something that’s debated, and the fact that you brought in the cultural aspect gives me the opportunity to give you an example in this brief moment to respond to this question that is outside of the United States, and in the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal and there is a district that people know about, its very famous in Amsterdam, we have watched as the process freed up the opportunity for people to run their businesses without government interference and what we saw happen is increases in exploitation, increases in human trafficking, increases in other kids of crime as well to the point that last year the mayor began to take back from the city, some of that district, and it’s a marvelous example of where people thought this would create freedom, and it actually created captivity and really poor living circumstances for many, many people. I think what would be a great idea, Dave, as a result of this question is lets schedule a podcast and have some experts on this, the issue of legalizing prostitution.
Dave: Yeah, I think this is a good question, and something we should address in more detail and its really interesting hearing about the situation in the Netherlands, and I forgot who said it, but over the years with working without you, someone had said to us that nobody wants to have a child that grows up and goes into prostitution, no woman or man, parent or child has. So, its just, whatever culture you’re in, so I think that’s something to keep in mind, too.

Sandie: Absolutely.

Dave: We have one more question, we received an email from Louisa, and Louisa says “Hello, I’ve been listening to the podcast about human trafficking, and I was wondering if there were any opportunities in Orange County to volunteer, or a center I can help out at? I have a bachelors in psychology and would like to volunteer counseling, or working with trafficked victims, thank you.” Well first of all, Louisa, thank you for the question and thank you for writing us. Sandie, I was wondering for those who are listening from the local area, Orange County, CA. In addition to her question just about local ways to get involved, also what might someone do who is listening in Charlotte or New York City, or in Germany or Korea, what might they want to do as well if they are looking for more information.

Sandie: Okay, well I will start with Orange County. Here in Orange County, we do have a human trafficking task force, and the website is OChumantrafficking.org.

Dave: We will put a link for that website on our website as well.

Sandie: Absolutely, so when you go on that website, there is a calendar and on the third Tuesday of every month, there is a volunteer training meeting, people who are interested in volunteering here in Orange County need to go to those meetings, go through the volunteer training, and depending on what kind of activities you’re involved in, that will entail background checks and additional training. We always need translators, we need people to help with wrapping Christmas presents for our victims and their families, and lots of things are opportunities to work on this here in Orange County. On a National level, the easiest way to find out who is doing what close to you, is to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, that number is (888) 3737-888, and that number can be used to call in a tip, a victim can call that number and ask for help, you can also call and find out who in my area is doing something. Where can I go to get plugged in with someone who is following protocols and is involved working in partnership with law enforcement and social services, and from an international perspective, one of the best places to go is the united nations website, and they have a link completely devoted to human trafficking and organizations that are working in different parts of the world.

Dave: So Louisa, hope that gets you started, and just as importantly, those of you who are thinking the same thing out there, reach out to one of those resources in order to find out how you might be able to get involved in fighting human trafficking and helping end human trafficking, just like we are. And, Sandie, before we go, we should mention that the conference that the Global Center for Women and Justice, that hosting here coming up in the spring will be help here at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, which by the way is going to be on March 2nd and 3rd, a time of the year that the rest of the world is pretty cold, and yet here in Costa Mesa it is going to be nice and warm, were just a few miles from the beach, and Southern California is not a bad place to be at the beginning of March, but that’s not the real reason, of course Sandie, it’s the conference itself.

Sandie: Yes, and this conference, every year it gets better. I hope that you plan to be here because we want to address the issue of homelessness, of youth that are being exploited for sex, and other issues related to the community response to our own women and children who are victims of human trafficking in our own backyard.

Dave: So if you would like to learn more about the conference you should visit out website, at Gcwj.vanguard.edu, however if you want to send us a question that we can help out with, you can send us an email at Gcwj@vanguard.edu, or of course you can call and leave a message for us, just like our caller did, and Sandie that number again?
Sandie: (714) 556-3610, extension 2240.

Dave: Hey, that’s going to be our time for today, we are so glad to have you join us, and in two weeks we will have Dr. Laura Letter from the Global Centurion join us for the next edition of Ending Human Trafficking, Sandie thanks for your time.

Sandie: Thank you.

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