Monthly Archives: May 2014

Youth Homelessness and Human Trafficking

On Monday, April 28, One Roof’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Stacy Oliver, and AmeriCorps Member, Josh Helms, attended The Civil Rights Act at 50: Education & Empowerment, A Conference on Civil Rights and Law Enforcement, at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. We listened to several excellent and informative presentations addressing the relationship between civil rights and law enforcement. During these sessions, we thought about the ways that these issues often impact someone’s housing status and ability to leave homelessness. We wanted to share some of what we learned at the conference about human trafficking as it relates to youth homelessness.

One presenter, Tanya Hallford, Former Assistant District Attorney in Baldwin County and Founder of Stop Sex Exploitation, opened a discussion about the importance of changing the way we think about girls and women who have been trafficked. Ms. Hallford noted that when a girl has experienced statutory rape, she’s considered a victim, but when a girl or woman is prostituted, community members might consider her a criminal rather than a victim or survivor. As Ms. Hallford said, the perception that girls and women want to be prostituted is not a reality. Girls and women who’ve been trafficked are vulnerable folks who’ve been exploited.

Human trafficking happens when people are struggling to meet their basic needs. When a human being is sold and trafficked, they are told that this way of life is mandatory. Someone who has no idea where they are, who they can trust, or how to care for themselves may feel that they can’t refuse what’s asked of them.  The consequences of saying “no” are often homelessness, violence, or even death. According to Ms. Hallford’s presentation, survivors of human trafficking are often shamed, blamed, or assessed as criminals in our own society, so some survivors might not come forward for help because they have come to see themselves as criminal.

During the presentation, we learned that people leaving a trafficking situation are truly vulnerable.  Like many people trying to rebuild their lives during or after a housing crisis, there are many obstacles for a survivor of human trafficking. For youth who have been trafficked, the formative years that they should have been learning life skills or growing their work or housing history have been taken away. Without these experiences and an adequate support network, youth have formidable barriers to navigating a safer, more self-reliant, and stable life and home outside of trafficking.  Most employers will judge potential employees who have no previous job experience, and most landlords who find out about a potential tenant’s background will have similar stigmas.

One Roof is particularly concerned with issues related to youth homelessness and human trafficking in Birmingham.  We learned that many adult women who are prostitutes were prostituted by someone they knew and trusted at a young age. According to FBI Special Agent Brian Ozden’s presentation on human trafficking and the Innocence Lost National Initiative, the majority of people trafficked for sex in the US are girls between the ages of 15 and 17. Ozden and other presenters discussed how Atlanta, Georgia is a major hub for human trafficking — not just in the United States, but internationally. Because of Birmingham’s proximity to Atlanta, and its comparable number of major interstate connections and location on the I-20 corridor, our community is a major (and growing) hub for human trafficking.

As a community, we must be sensitive to the needs, fears, and circumstances of survivors of human trafficking. We must also understand that human trafficking is directly linked to poverty and homelessness. One Roof believes that everyone experiencing homelessness or poverty deserves to be seen as an individual who is not to blame for their condition or circumstances — including people who have been trafficked. Ending homelessness and addressing this growing issue in Birmingham includes being aware of human trafficking and its consequences.

For more information on human trafficking and how individuals and agencies can help, check out these resources from the US Department of Health and Human Services, including an educational video.


Researching Best Practices in Homeless Services

My passion for serving those within our community who are experiencing homelessness began my freshman year of high school when I would serve meals to visitors of Church of the Reconciler. In this capacity, I was able to spend time with visitors, getting to know them and their experiences. Nonetheless, I failed to grasp the complexities of their needs. In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to work under Dr. Stefan Kertesz at the Veterans Health Administration, assisting him in his research to tailor healthcare services to the specific needs of people experiencing homelessness. During my tenure at the VA, I began to better understand the health needs of people experiencing homelessness and how decent, affordable housing can serve as the cornerstone to supporting proper health. In the summer of 2011, I completed a fellowship with Collaborative Solutions, Inc. There, I performed a wide variety of tasks from writing policy briefs to drafting needs assessment surveys, affording me the technical skills required to evaluate homelessness from a macro-level perspective. Overall, these experiences led me to pursue a masters in public health, a field that will provide me with the tools needed to evaluate the health needs of vulnerable populations, analyze effective interventions, and systematically change policies that will strengthen our communities.

A little over a year ago, I contacted Michelle (One Roof Executive Director) about the possibility of a summer internship. I had taken a year off after graduating college and wanted to get my feet wet in the homeless advocacy field before beginning my graduate degree. In an introductory meeting with Michelle, Nathan (PromisAL Program Coordinator), and Valerie (Administrative Coordinator), we decided that I could best serve One Roof by exploring, documenting, and reporting upon best practices in homeless service provision. At first, this seemed like a fairly simple task, considering my ignorance regarding the enormous complexities in preventing and ending homelessness. Nonetheless, as I delved deeper into the research, I began to understand the connecting points between services – services that range from health care and housing, to employment benefits and supplemental income benefits. Additionally, I learned about the tools designed to secure such benefits for clients, including vulnerability assessments and peer support specialists. Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me! As time passed, however, I found it easier to narrow my research into three main components: best practices for continuum of care success, best practices for housing program success, and best practices for increasing economic security.

Breaking down these topics even further, I had the opportunity to explore different tools and programs that have proven successful in stabilizing clients, helping to reach those most vulnerable within our communities. I presented this research to One Roof member agencies and later to members of the Board. My research has led to the writing of a document which fully discusses each practice and provides examples of models utilized throughout the country and even internationally. It is my hope that agencies throughout central Alabama can adopt as many of these strategies as possible, modifying them to meet the specific needs of clients within our community.

John-Andrew Young is a life-long resident of Birmingham. He completed his undergraduate studies in political science at Birmingham-Southern College in 2012. In the fall of 2013, he began his masters in public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, concentrating in health policy analysis. His current focus as a masters student centers around policies that benefit the healthcare needs of individuals experiencing homelessness.  

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