Groups Press City Council on Budget for Homeless
By E. C. GOGOLAK
Published: June 11, 2013
New York can be an unwelcome place at night, particularly for the nearly 4,000 youths who might have no safe place to sleep. And for someone looking to take advantage, homeless young people can be easy prey.
Pimps can be all over “the neighborhood, at the deli, the pizza shop and near Port Authority,” said Jayne Bigelsen, the director of anti-human-trafficking initiatives at Covenant House New York, an agency serving homeless, runaway and at-risk people 16 to 21. Those pimps say things like: “ ‘The shelters are full. Where are you going to go? Why don’t you come with me?’ ” Ms. Bigelsen said.
She and other members of about 10 advocacy groups — including Streetwise and Safe, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, and the Legal Aid Society — were testifying before a City Council hearing on the prevalence of sex trafficking among homeless city youth. Together they called on the Council to lock in a minimum of $12.6 million for runaway and homeless youth services, and to provide for an additional $1.5 million in the 2014 fiscal year budget to expand services for runaway and homeless youth.
In a study last month interviewing nearly 200 randomly selected homeless youth over the last year, Ms. Bigelsen said researchers at Covenant House and Fordham University found that nearly one in four participants had been either victims of trafficking or had exchanged sex for basic needs like food and shelter. Of those participants, 48 percent reported doing so because they had no safe place to sleep.
“We know all the beds are full, and the study shows that the pimps know that, too,” Ms. Bigelsen said, adding: “We have no choice but to send them to an adult homeless shelter. But our kids do not want to go to an adult shelter. And that’s when the pimps wait and offer them a place to stay.”
Because homeless youth far outnumber the beds available in the city’s shelters, they tend to fall back to the streets and into the hands of pimps and sex traffickers who specifically recruit young people. For instance, there are roughly 3,800 homeless youth living on the city’s streets, according to a survey by the Empire State Coalition, another organization present at the hearing; yet there are only 250 city-financed youth shelter beds available.
Councilman Lewis A. Fidler, the committee chairman, condemned the fact that youth are “forced in one way or another to sell their body, their soul, their dignity,” for a safe place to sleep. “It offends me on so many levels that this happens on our watch,” he said, and he urged the Council to support the $12.6 million base line of support for homeless youth.
“If you’re not prepared to walk the walk, then you’re just talking the talk,” Mr. Fidler said. “The progress that we’ve made needs to be locked in.”