In 2019, LCHT released Colorado Project 2.0, a community-based research report evaluating human trafficking in Colorado. In response to this report, a group of diverse survivors, practitioners, law enforcement professionals, and advocates developed Action Plan 2.0. This action plan provides recommendations to combat trafficking based off of Colorado Project 2.0 data. Together, these reports illuminate a critical need for increased housing for those at risk of human trafficking, as well as for human trafficking survivors.
Between 2010 and 2018, the median price of rent in Denver rose from $805 to nearly $1,500 — an almost 82% increase. In that same time period in Colorado, the average home price has grown by 77%, while the median annual income has only risen by 4.5%. There are on average 50 formal evictions per day in Colorado (displacing on average 150-200 people).
As the cost of living has dramatically increased, people are being driven into precarious housing situations- and the unhoused population in Denver continues to grow.
Who is Experiencing Homelessness in Colorado?
Unfortunately, Colorado’s housing crisis surpasses Denver’s city limits. A 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) illuminated a staggering amount of homelessness throughout Colorado. According to HUD, approximately 10,857 people are experiencing homelessness on any given day. People experiencing homelessness in Colorado include:
- 990 family households
- 1,073 veterans
- 2,738 persons experiencing chronic homelessness
- 593 unaccompanied young adults between 18-24 years of age
- 2,034 unaccompanied students (minors not with parents/custodians)
When Lack of Housing Equals Increased Vulnerability
Underneath the obvious risks of homelessness lies the increased vulnerability for human trafficking. Lack of adequate beds in Colorado shelters means that many people experiencing homelessness have no choice but to sleep on the street. Temperature extremes, like the freezing cold or scalding hot weather in Colorado, exacerbate the health risks of doing so. The life expectancy of an unhoused person varies between 42-52 years. For someone who is housed that number is 78.
Some people may feel forced to agree to a ride offered by an ill-intentioned stranger, accept a job opportunity that’s too good to be true, or even exchange sex for something necessary to survive- like a place to sleep for the night.
Further, camping bans present in Colorado cities criminalize sleeping on the street. In 2012, Denver passed one such camping ban which prohibits people from “pitching tarps and tents and even covering themselves with a blanket in public spaces.” Yet other laws in some cities forbid aggressive panhandling, public urination, or blocking the public right of way. These circumstances push individuals experiencing homelessness to make choices they may not otherwise make. Some people may feel forced to agree to a ride offered by an ill-intentioned stranger, accept a job opportunity that’s too good to be true, or even exchange sex for something necessary to survive- like a place to sleep for the night.
Several studies illustrate the high vulnerability of people experiencing homelessness to human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 36% of youth experiencing homelessness had “traded sex for money, a place to spend the night, food, protection, or drugs.” Further, they found that most of these youth began trading sex for money after becoming homeless. More than one in five youth experiencing homelessness were offered money for sex on their first night being homeless. By definition, trading sex for money or goods constitutes commercial sex — which, for minors in Colorado, constitutes human trafficking by state law (this mirrors the federal law).
Another study by the Covenant House, a nonprofit focusing on homelessness, found that 32% of young people experiencing homelessness had engaged in the commercial sex trade. Of these people, almost seven out of ten engaged in commercial sex while they were homeless. Further, 19% of young people experiencing homelessness choose to engage in “survival sex” — the exchange of sexual services for goods necessary for survival — solely to access housing or food.
Exploited For Labor, Not Just Sex
Beyond sex trafficking, individuals experiencing homelessness are also vulnerable to labor trafficking. The Covenant House research found that people approached 91% of youth experiencing homelessness with fraudulent job opportunities. Fraudulent employers target these individuals because they may be desperate for income to provide for food, shelter, or basic needs. They also may not have social support or access to resources to help them determine whether employment is legitimate. Many are further victims of discrimination due to their housing status. As such, they may accept job offers filled with false promises of fair pay, lodging, and safe work. By U.S. law, these fraudulent employment situations constitute labor trafficking.
Labor trafficking among youth experiencing homelesness takes many forms. Forced drug dealing, representing 81% of labor trafficking among youth experiencing homelessneses, is by far the most prevalent. Other forms of forced labor include factory work, domestic labor, agriculture, international drug smuggling, sex-trade-related labor, and commission-based sales.
Both sex and labor trafficking, as well as homelessness, disproportionally affect individuals who indentify as LGBTQ. According to the Polaris Project, 46% of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness ran away from home due to family rejection. Because of discrimination due to their sexual orientation, they also lack social support or simply fear accessing social services. As a result, these individuals represent 40% of youth experiencing homelessness even though they only comprise 7% of the general population.
High rates of homelessness put youth who identify as LGBTQ at higher risk of trafficking: in one study of youth experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ individuals represented 39% of those being trafficked. Further, 60% of transgender youth reported sex trafficking. To prevent these trafficking cases, advocates must address the root causes of exploitation such as homelessness and discrimination.
More inclusive programs which address key issues like housing, transition services for youth aging out of foster care, substance abuse, and mental health are critical to helping end this crime.
Combatting human trafficking means working to reduce homelessness. In the anti-trafficking field, this falls under two strategic areas known as prevention and protection. At the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, we developed new prevention and protection recommendations in the Colorado Project Action Plan 2.0. Ultimately, we believe that more inclusive programs which address key issues like housing, transition services for youth aging out of foster care, substance abuse, and mental health are critical to helping end this crime.