Homelessness & Sex Trafficking

Today in Seattle, local media outlets are collaborating on a project called Day of Homelessness, focusing on the homelessness crisis in our city. It has been a little over a two and a half years since a state of emergency on homelessness was declared in Seattle and King County. As of January, it is estimated that there were over 12,100 people experiencing homelessness in King County—and just over 2,200 shelter beds.

Housing and homelessness are near and dear to our hearts at REST, because we know it is one of the most significant hurdles for the individuals we serve. Without stable housing, it is often very difficult to achieve other goals—like getting out of the sex trade, addressing chemical dependency issues, or keeping your children safe and healthy. Over half of sexually exploited individuals are homeless or in unstable housing—and many of them face incredibly high barriers to already scarce housing opportunities, such as criminal records, prior evictions, financial instability, and more.

In addition to long-term housing opportunities being difficult for survivors to come by (even with the support of advocates), often the short-term and transitional options are difficult, unsafe, or triggering for individuals experiencing the trauma and PTSD that survivors often experience. The need for safe, trauma-informed places for victims and survivors of sex trafficking to stay is extraordinary.

Not only is homelessness a massive struggle for the adults we serve, but we know it often starts in youth. It is estimated that one in three runaway minors are solicited for sex within the first 48 hours of being on the street. According to YouthCare, almost 50% of the homeless adults in our community first experienced homelessness before they turned 25, and in a Bridge Collaborative survey, 62% of minors in trafficking cases are homeless or unstably housed.

In short, amidst King County’s homelessness crisis, it is extremely challenging for sexually exploited individuals to find safe and stable housing. But it is not impossible.

In the last fiscal year (FY18), we had the privilege of celebrating with 134 different individuals this year as they’ve found housing with the help and support of a REST Community Advocate, and often in collaboration with other community organizations.

Of those 2,200 local beds, sixteen of those beds are dedicated for individuals in the sex trade. Thirteen of them are at REST—seven at our emergency shelter, and six in our Restorative Housing Program. Between the two locations, we were able to provide over 4,200 nights of rest in FY18. In the same timeframe, our shelter operated at 93% capacity.

The housing situation in King County seems dire, but it is not without hope. We are encouraged that local media is taking the time to take a more in-depth look at homelessness in our community, and by how many community organizations are working together for a solution—and, for victims and survivors of sex trafficking, we are honored to be part of the solution.

“I am so happy to be able to now have a more permanent place to stay. Now I can start working on my other goals that are important too. Thank you for helping me get this housing, I cannot tell you how much it is appreciated.” - A REST Client