Finding adequate and appropriate emergency, transitional, and long-term housing is often the biggest service-related challenge that task forces face. Service providers explore a variety of options depending on the local resources and needs of the victims. Task forces should take an expansive view of the housing options in their communities and seek partnerships to meet the diverse needs of trafficking victims.
Domestic violence shelters are often a resource for trafficking victims; however, few have housing services for men. Some domestic violence shelters are unwilling to extend their services to trafficking victims due to safety concerns and because the specific needs of trafficking victims might not be addressed by their programs. Other shelter programs may be specifically designed for men, youth, or specific cultural community members. Task forces must take care to provide appropriate training and support to programs that are expanding to serve trafficking victims. Seeking technical assistance from shelters that have successfully dealt with issues of access and placement is a helpful way to inform discussions with potential shelter partners in advance of placement.
In order to create specific housing facilities for human trafficking victims, task forces are encouraged to work with, integrate, and bolster existing housing resources in creative ways. For example, shelters may be able to make space available for long-term placements for trafficked persons, or make a financial agreement to ensure that one bed is always available for a trafficking victim. Transitional or affordable housing programs may provide access to long-term housing to support victims in attaining their long-term goals. More than in any other service area, task force members must think outside the box to create safe and affordable housing solutions.
Below are some strategies that task forces have used to identify safe housing options for victims:
Establish a shelter point of contact (POC) for the task force. This person will be the main POC for victim service providers and law enforcement to contact when shelter needs are identified. Shelter partners and the task force shelter POC can establish an ongoing mechanism to update on availability of space. This will help streamline the referral process and ensure placement in an expedient manner.
Seek federal victim assistance. Emergency shelter funds are available from federal victim assistance programs through Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) victim specialists for up to 30 days if there are no other resources available.
Seek crime victim compensation. Crime victim compensation programs are available in every state and territory and may be able to assist victims with the cost of emergency housing needs that result from their victimization.
Secure short-term immigration relief through law enforcement task force partners. Work closely with law enforcement partners to reduce barriers for victims in accessing housing. This includes law enforcement partners requesting Continued Presence for foreign national victims so that employment authorization can be obtained as soon as possible, minimizing the need for long-term fully subsidized housing.
Establish procedures for utilizing shelters, screening practices, and law enforcement involvement. This is an important responsibility for a task force to agree upon. Criteria should be established in choosing shelters as partners (including trauma-informed and client-centered practices), as many well-meaning but unskilled nonprofessionals offer shelter to victims. It is also important for service providers to keep an open mind and give victims the final choice. For example, one service provider was reluctant to partner with a state certified shelter that mandated participation in religious services as a condition of shelter; however, when offered as one choice of many housing options, the case manager found that some victims found this environment both acceptable and healing.
Create Memorandums of Understanding (MOU). A best practice is to create MOUs with as many different safe, qualified shelter and housing options as possible. This may include domestic violence shelters, youth shelters, faith-based housing, single apartments, and group homes are in various locations. Be transparent with victims about the realities of each situation so they are more invested, and therefore more likely to remain, in a safe place.
Conduct a screening assessment. Victim service providers need time to conduct a screening assessment before placing a victim in a shelter or other housing alternative. The task force should collaborate to ensure that the appropriate information is obtained to determine which of the available housing options will be most appropriate for victims. Placement choices may be disastrous if this does not occur.
Take into consideration short-term housing options for victims with a criminal history that may prohibit them from placement in other housing. For victims forced to commit a criminal act as part of their exploitation, a criminal history may prohibit their placement with many of the more routine housing options. Victims that are also fighting addiction and substance abuse are often prohibited from placement in most shelters, including trafficking shelters. The immigration status of foreign victims may also impact placement. Working with your victim services committee, it’s important to brainstorm and identify partnerships locally that will provide housing for these victims while you work toward addressing the barrier to accessing long-term housing support services.
Ensure clear communication between the case manager and shelter staff. When the victim’s main case manager is not a member of the shelter staff, careful communication is critical in order to minimize problems. Victims may disregard or misunderstand shelter rules and compromise the safety of others. Or victims may not be participating in counseling groups and other shelter activities, which may cause resentment on the part of other residents. Some victims do not want to tell their stories in this environment.