image of a young person walking down a crowded street, overlay is maroon with white text reading "INTERSECTION OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND YOUTH HOMELESSNESS"

According to research conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, every year an estimated 4.2 million young people between ages 13-25 experience homelessness, including 700,000 unaccompanied youth ages 13-17 (“Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America”). Runaway and homeless youth (RHY) are at higher risk of becoming victims of sex and labor trafficking due to their homelessness situation. These youth are perceived as easy targets by traffickers because of their lack of housing, connections, resources, and safety nets. Certainly, human trafficking intersects with youth homelessness in many ways, for example:

young person wearing a mask standing on a city street

Many youth served by RHY programs have experienced abuse, neglect, or violence in their homes which has forced them to run away. These traumatic situations make them more vulnerable to becoming victims of sex and labor trafficking.

young Black person siting on a bed, writing in a notebook

In some states, youth experiencing homelessness cannot sign a lease, continue their education, access medical and mental health services, find a job, or apply for federal assistance. This situation increases their vulnerability to human trafficking, including trading sex for something of value (i.e., shelter, food, transportation).

the hands of a young person texting on a phone

Traffickers capitalize on the vulnerabilities of youth experiencing homelessness and target these youth as victims and accessories to criminal activities.

young person sitting outside against a cement wall

Labor traffickers (individuals and businesses) recruit homeless youth because they know that these youth are looking for job opportunities, and these opportunities are limited while living on the streets.

It is important that RHY programs enhance their capacity to identify and prevent trafficking. Programs should focus on five key areas including prevention, identification, interventions, effective referrals, and collaboration, by using victim-centered, trauma-informed, and positive youth development approaches. 

New Tip Sheet (2024)
Human Trafficking: Screening and Assessment Tools and Practices for Runaway and Homeless Youth Settings

Identifying youth at risk of or experiencing human trafficking in RHY settings requires programs to use holistic approaches which include formal and informal strategies. Through screenings and assessments, RHY programs can make appropriate referrals and connections with partner agencies to provide the best service team for each young person. 

  • This tip sheet addresses:
    • How programs prepare for conducting screening and assessments
    • Considerations for implementing and recognizing trafficking in RHY settings 
    • Identifying trafficking by using validated and evidence-based tools  
    • Survivor leadership resources  
    • And more! 

Download the Tip Sheet (English)

  • A la Oficina de Servicios para Familias y Jóvenes (FYSB) y al Centro de Capacitación y Asistencia Técnica y Desarrollo de Capacidades para Jóvenes Fugitivos y Sin Hogar (RHYTTAC) les complace anunciar la disponibilidad de este recurso en español.

Increase Your Knowledge

Learn more about Human Trafficking by accessing the below resources and tools to assist RHY programs in building their capacity at the intersection of human trafficking and youth who run away or are experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

RHYTTAC Resources

Other Resources and Articles

Additional Resources

National Human Trafficking Hotline
By phone: 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711)
By Text: “BeFree” 233733
Live Chat

National Runaway Safeline
By phone: 1-800-RUNAWAY / 1-800-786-2929
By live chat & email:
By forum:

Blue Campaign
By phone: 1-866-347-2423

More Information

Looking for more information or support on how to incorporate effective human trafficking prevention and intervention practices into your programs? Request individualized Technical Assistance or contact us at [email protected].