Mayor Sylvester Turner announced today that the city of Houston’s anti-trafficking case managers and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Homeless Outreach Team (HCSO HOT) will launch a six-month pilot program with a specific focus on increasing victim identification in homeless youth. The HCSO HOT and case managers from the Mayor’s Anti-Human Trafficking division, along with outreach specialists from The Landing and United Against Human Trafficking, will ride with HCSO deputies to distribute goodie bags and talk with the vulnerable population about available trafficking services.
A rotating calendar of participating human trafficking outreach specialists will share these responsibilities twice a month with the HCSO HOT beginning in March.
The trafficking risk prevention unit is one of the city’s responses to a 2017 research study that revealed that 1 in 5 homeless youth is a victim of trafficking in the United States. Prior to assembling this outreach team, the Mayor’s Anti-Human Trafficking division worked with the Coalition on Homeless to add questions to its Universal Assessment for housing to assess people for trafficking victimization. Incorporating this into the assessment was the first step in building a bridge for trafficking victims to shelters and eventually long-term housing.
“Human trafficking is prevalent among our homeless youth. By joining forces with the HCSO HOT and our longstanding partners, The Landing and United Against Human Trafficking, we will be able to increase victim identification with the safety, security and expertise of the HCSO HOT,” Mayor Turner said. “Like all victims of trafficking, it is important that we work to uphold the dignity of those that carry the additional burden of being homeless. I also want to point out that this program leverages existing resources and the political will to do something about trafficking.”
“Protecting homeless youth from falling victim to human trafficking predators requires law enforcement, local government, and our community partners to all pull in the same strategic direction,” said Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. “We are excited to join Mayor Turner and all the organizations involved in this joint effort to protect those who need us the most.”
“Our hope is to meet these youth where they are and connect them to available services and support. We are encouraged by the steps Houston is taking to enhance victim services, and as The Landing expands into youth advocacy, this program will support our efforts to help young victims of trafficking in our city. – Cara Parker, Executive Director, The Landing
“We are thrilled to partner with the City of Houston in their efforts to identify trafficking victims within the homeless population. These individuals are often overlooked in the trafficking conversation and we are thankful for the Mayor’s efforts to shine a light on these vulnerable youth. We are confident through this collaborative approach, many of our young adults will be able to live free and heal from their exploitation.” – Timeka Walker, Executive Director, United Against Human Trafficking
This new pilot is aligned with the City’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategic Plan and its overall goal to increase victim identification by setting up a variety of referral streams. The plan has been dubbed the first comprehensive municipal response in the U.S. by Polaris Project and can be found at humantraffickinghouston.org. For more information about this initiative or any of our other initiatives, please contact Minal Patel Davis, Special Advisor to Mayor on Human Trafficking at 832.393.0977 or firstname.lastname@example.org.