COVID caused the worst-case-scenario for getting survivors the care they need.
Although we pivoted prevention and education efforts online, COVID launched very real and devastating roadblocks within the counter-trafficking network. We refuse to ignore the complex realities that COVID is imposing on our mission.
But we have a solution: The Pathway – a referral system to connect trafficking survivors to service providers.
COVID Intensified The Issue of Human Trafficking
COVID increased vulnerability within the community. A downward economic turn and isolation are what traffickers count on to exploit. Economic devastation hurled the unemployed into desperation. Social distancing sunk survivors into isolation and depression. Staying at home forced many children living with their abuser into constant danger.
COVID decreased access to life-saving care. Shelters and safe homes locked down for the health of staff, volunteers, and clients, leaving survivors without a safe place to escape. Courts closed, leaving survivors without T-Visas and U-Visas for legal status as trafficking survivors. Hospital resources are focused on COVID-related testing and treatment, pushing survivors with other health problems by the wayside. Reduced operations and program capacities paused referrals between organizations.
We watched survivors slip through the cracks of a system meant to empower them.
Though this is reality, it is not the end.
Houston Lacks Infrastructure To Help Survivors Efficiently
Our goal is for trafficking survivors to build a vibrant life. As Houstonians, we are known for our generous hearts and quick action to serve. Exploitation is systemic. We need to go beyond providing individual services. We need a clear path to freedom for survivors.
Many of our partners specialize on one issue – homelessness, substance use, therapy, legal aid. Each holds necessary and life-saving programs in our city. But trafficking survivors often need care from all the specialists.
Right now, Houston lacks the infrastructure to connect these separate care centers, causing a series of unnecessary roadblocks – countless hours of phone tag between agencies, inaccurate data collection, and worst of all survivors being referred to inappropriate programs and being denied services.
Amid COVID, agencies have altered capacity and program availability. We can’t keep up. COVID has highlighted just how critical a virtual, instantaneous referral program is.
Houston, We Have A Solution
Our solution is The Pathway – a referral system that joins together the services available in Houston. By enhancing efficiency, accountability, and survivor experience, a path to freedom is possible.
The Pathway accelerates the referral process between agencies because a program’s capacity and in-take requirements are input into the database from the start. No more weeks of phone tag only to be denied into a program. Survivors will be connected to the right program immediately.
The Pathway provides accountability to partnering organizations by gathering objective data. It will record how quickly organizations respond to referrals, if and where survivors are dropping out, and where a program needs to be added.
Increased efficiency and accountability mean that survivors won’t wait as long to receive the best, most relevant care. Survivors can avoid re-living their trauma by explaining their story to every organization they encounter because they shared it once in the database. Instead, they will already be known and understood before beginning a program.
A Sneak Peek At The Piloting Agencies
Long-term housing and restoration services to adult female survivors of sex trafficking.
By employing a trauma-informed holistic healing program, Redeemed Ministries empowers survivors to regain their identity and develop skills and plans to live a safe, independent life.
Tahirih Justice Center
Legal services for women and children who are survivors of sex and/or labor trafficking.
Tahirih Justice Center elevates the voices of women and girls to create a world of equality, safety, and dignity. Through their work in Greater Houston and Nationally, they supply legal services and provide opportunities for policy advocacy in securing improved victim-centered legislation, helping women and children obtain what is needed for their restoration.
Basic needs, short-term housing, T-Visa/U-Visa certification for men, women, and children who are survivors of sex or labor trafficking.
With 75 years of experience working in the Greater Houston Area, Catholic Charities provides expertise in basic needs provision, shelter, and T-Visa/U-Visa certification. Catholic Charities ensures families and individuals in all walks of life and from any place receive the best possible services.
United Against Human Trafficking
Case management for men and women who are survivors of sex and/or labor trafficking.
A survivor’s escape is only the beginning of a long and painful journey to a new life. United Against Human Trafficking provides a trained Case Manager to guide a survivor from their initial escape until they’ve rebuilt their lives.
This is a huge moment in the fight to end human trafficking.
Years of challenges, disappointments, and frustrations are culminating at this moment.
The Pathway is emerging as a critical solution, one that will change the landscape of trafficking in Houston, for the better.