Human Trafficking and Housing & Homelessness

From public housing systems like shelters and government housing, to private housing in apartment complexes, housing systems of all types frequently intersect with human trafficking victims and perpetrators.

Homelessness in Recruitment

In Polaris’s survivor survey, 64% reported being homeless or experiencing unstable housing at the time they were recruited into their trafficking situation. Traffickers are able to exploit potential victims’ fear of sleeping on the street by offering them safe shelter to recruit them into trafficking. LGBTQ+ populations are at an increased risk as well as runaway/homeless youth and some may chose to engage in survival sex to get access to shelter. The National Hotline has also documented cases of traffickers targeting homeless shelters as recruitment grounds.

Housing Systems in Trafficking Operations

The fear of homelessness is often used by traffickers to coerce victims to stay under their control. Sex and labor trafficking can operate out of public housing units, apartments, vacation rentals, and in shelters and residential facilities like nursing homes. Residential brothels have been documented in housing rentals across all rungs of the economic ladder. Traffickers in labor trafficking have been known to rent housing properties and force workers to live in overcrowded spaces which tend to have effects on workers’ health and safety.


Housing Systems for Victims & Survivors

Shelter is the #1 most requested service for all crisis cases on National Hotline. Since there is a general lack of trafficking-specific shelters, domestic violence (DV) shelters are typically the best suited to fill the gaps. Although there has been great improvement with DV shelters opening their doors to some sex trafficking survivors, many are still not recognizing the crucial role they can play for victims of labor trafficking. The report lays out the minor policy alterations that a DV shelter can consider when adapting to the needs of trafficking survivors they serve. Additionally, since rentals are common for traffickers, landlords could be in a key position to identify and respond to human trafficking given the right training.


Housing Systems Recommendations

One of the largest risk factors for human trafficking is housing instability. It is important that all housing systems be able to address and respond to human trafficking survivors. This may include the addition of all trafficking survivors as a target population for domestic violence shelters. Domestic violence shelters will need additional resources to do so, and some may need to adapt certain policies to meet the needs of both populations. Another recommendation is including basic rights and protections into standard lease agreements protecting survivors of human trafficking from housing discrimination, eviction, or other punishment based on their status or history as a victim of crime.