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51 % The Women's Perspective

51% #1671: Human Trafficking And Unhoused Youth, Part Two

On today’s 51%, the second part of a series on human trafficking and unhoused youth. We’ll speak with a young woman who became unhoused and sought help with a local housing program. And we’ll meet the executive director of that program.

Andy Gilpin is the executive director for CAPTAIN Community Human Services based in Saratoga County, New York.

“It's really quite a unique organization,” Gilpin said. “It's been around for 44 years, community service, human services based, largely volunteer driven programs, very community connected. And we empower and look to support folks of all ages, on their growth, towards personal issues that they want to grow towards.”

Gilpin says CAPTAIN helps the unhoused, those dealing with food insecurity, those in human trafficking situations, and families experiencing trauma across New York’s Capital Region.

“Everybody from children all the way to senior citizens, across that whole spectrum, people come to us in various situations, individuals, families, youth, young adults, all experiencing some sort of housing crisis, could be homelessness, could be street homelessness could be unstable housing in some way, being kicked out, being asked to leave,” Gilpin said. “And then situations where eviction is an imminent issue, all those across those spectrums of housing, or who we can help with different funding different programs, different things set up to support them to get to permanent housing, maintain permanent housing, and really help get stability back in their lives.”

According to Covenant House, a global nonprofit dedicated to helping victims of human trafficking, about 20,000 kids are forced into human trafficking every year, usually after becoming homeless.

There are about 10,000 homeless shelters in the country, but Gilpin says youth shelters are rarer.

He says CAPTAIN’s youth shelter is designed to remove kids from high-risk situations before it’s too late.

“So our Runaway and Homeless Youth shelter, located in Malta, primarily serves under 18. But our kind of main focus is 13 to 17,” Gilpin said. “That's usually where we find most of our referrals coming from. And so youth come to us, again, non-system youth haven't been involved with juvenile justice, probably not involved with child protective services, not something that warrants inpatient mental health. So it's those kids who find crisis at home, something has happened. Either they have initiated issue or something happened to them, whatever it is, they have a housing crisis. And they can come to us short term, it's crisis intervention for typically we say up to 30 days, but we can go longer than that as needed. And generally, what we're trying to do is create a situation where we can provide the stability in a crisis, free environment, professional staff, dedicated case manager all working to resolve the issues that are at play.”

Reunification

Gilpin says reunification with the family is ideal.

“About 85% of kids return home to their parent or guardian,” Gilpin said. “So it's really family mediation, working through some of the issues, get supports in place, identify what were the issues that led to the housing crisis. For the remainder, it's about trying to find what's the next best situation for them, could be another family member could be foster care could be some other independent living situation, whatever it might be, depending on their age, you know, under circumstances, we can really try to identify what's best for them, we're their advocates to find out what's best for them.”

Gilpin says CAPTAIN often acts as a mediator so that families can come back together safely.

“Many times both parties, youth and family, realize that there's a definite issue, like they haven't been able to address it,” Gilpin said. “And now it's reached a boiling point. And so now, the youth has either left the house on their own, or, you know, some other agency has helped get them to us. So like, it's definitely reached a point that it can't be ignored any longer. So then the conversations can open up to say, ‘OK, what happened? How did we get here? What can we do?’ So a lot of is just the mediation of working through communication, working through understanding what expectations both have.”

Gilpin says when reunification just isn’t an option, there are other programs.

“When somebody presents to us as not having any housing whatsoever, truly homeless, we can get them and take them from that point, to their own apartment to permanency with supported case management, and really help them start off a new chapter in their life,” Gilpin said.

Ashely Baines

One young woman who went through this program is 19-year-old Ashely Baines. Baines grew up in a mobile home on Long Island. She says the road that led to her being unhoused started with a tumultuous home life. Her father left when she was young, and she still doesn’t know where he went, leaving her mom to raise her, her brother, and her sister, alone.

Baines’ sister is 18 years older than her.

“So when I was born, she just had her first son,” Baines said. “And so him and I are three months apart.”

Baines says growing up, her mom was preoccupied with Baines’ sister, who struggled with addiction.

“She was living at home with mom at the time,” Baines said. “And then just trying to make sure she was OK, trying to get her on a steady path because she was going to school.”

Baines says her brother, who is bipolar and now 32, fought constantly with her sister, who is now 36.

“What do you do when they're arguing because… like me just sitting there. You just sit there and you're listening to things that are being said,” Baines said. “And then your mom trying to break it up, but she doesn't know what else to do. Because like, at this point, they're like in their almost 20s. And arguing and like they're adults and like, and then, you know, cops were eventually called. And it's embarrassing, especially because you know, someone who’s my mom is trying to shelter two kids away from the loudness of the arguing, but also trying to stop them from arguing but can't because she's tied up, because… she's like, one person handling two different situations.”

Baines says her sister had more children, whom Baines says she ended up mothering at a young age.

“They started to call me mommy. And I was like, ‘I'm not your mom.’ And like, I said that in front of my sister, but I also felt guilty for having them say that, because it wasn't like I was trying to, like I knew I played babysitter a lot. And I was mostly around a lot,” Baines said.

Baines says when she was 9, her mom asked Baines’ sister to come pick her up. Baines’ mom needed to start her shift in the early morning. Her sister showed up in the middle of the night and seemed OK, but was intoxicated.

“My sister is good at making it seem like she's straight, like clear-minded,” Baines said. “She's not like, it took me a few years to catch on to when she's not and she's really good at composing herself. But then like, there's cues that you could see, but being young you don't really know that. She seemed fine to me because being 9 years old, you don't really know the difference.”

Baines says she remembers the bumps of the first few curbs they hit on the drive. Baines was trying to sleep in the back seat.

“I was like, falling in and out of consciousness because I was so tired that like, I was already sleeping,” Baines said. “You know being 9, this is late for a 9-year-old to be up in the middle of the night. I could tell you I was wearing my blue pajamas with snowflakes on them, the matching set of course, like I just remember that day like so clearly to me like a just like, it was like yesterday if for whatever reason.”

Baines says after her sister hit the first curb, she put on her seatbelt.

“It ended up happening again, but this time the car had flipped over, like upside down, like my head was like… Blood was rushing to my head because I was upside down,” Baines said. “So I'm now stuck in the seat belt. And my sister… Like the window shields smashed on the ground and everything like that, like it happened so fast that like I couldn't even register what had happened. By the time I opened my eyes again, I was upside down and my sister was trying to figure out how to get out. She managed to get out by crawling out the window because the windows had shattered. And then she told me to unbuckle my seatbelt but to be careful because I was like in the air. I landed on my feet, and then had to crawl out of the front door window.”

Baines says she struggled with depression growing up. She says eventually her dad came back and he and her mom would fight a lot. She says when she was a teenager, her parents hit a breaking point.

“They looked at it as a whole as, ‘OK, there's something that needs to change, because you keep going in and out of hospitals from your depression and things like that. And you're missing a lot of school because of it. And it seems that school becomes more stressful because you keep missing a whole bunch.’ Regardless of being out, like I wouldn't go to school, because I just had days where I couldn't,” Baines said. “So they asked, ‘Do you think that if we could set you up somewhere else would you be willing to go without us?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I would.’”

Baines moved in with her aunt and uncle when she was 15.

“I lived with my Aunt Karen at first,” Baines said. “At first it was great. It was changing and adapting to them. Because I knew when I first got up there, they always said, ‘She's so quiet. She doesn't make conversation.’ I don't because I was used to that, I was used to living in a household where all I did was be in my room. And even at dinnertime, we didn't have meals together.”

Her aunt and uncle lived in South Glens Falls, north of Saratoga County, and Baines says she grew close with her aunt. But then her junior year of high school, tragedy struck.

“She ended up falling down the cellar stairs late one night,” Baines said. “And it… To me is life works crazy, because we literally ended up having an argument the day prior before she ended up leaving us. And then that night we made up and I am so dumbfounded on the fact that like, was it fate saying like, you need to make up now because… just the how things played out. And we actually were arguing about my room not being clean and things like that. And typical teenager stuff, obviously.”

Baines’ uncle took guardianship of her but she says she felt unwelcome. She says he was doing the best he could, but was still grieving for his wife and just didn’t know how to manage a teenage girl.

“I felt like everything I did was just more of a burden,” Baines said. “Or I was always doing something wrong. It was always eggshells there. And I felt like I shouldn't have to live like this. And it felt like every time I tried to talk to him about it, I felt uncomfortable because it felt like no matter what I tried to say it was always deflected that I could do better. And I was just like, well, I'm at a defeat because it feels like no matter why I try to talk to you, I just I can't do right.”

Baines ended up staying with friends here and there, trying not to go home, until she was put in touch with CAPTAIN.

“I've heard of CAPTAIN through school because I knew they have another program for younger kids, younger youth, but this is for like young adults,” Baines said. “And to me this was like, ‘Oh, really like what are the odds?’”

Baines said she did an intake interview with CAPTAIN.

“And I remember just talking to her and telling her like my story and how I ended up in the situation and just like from telling them, I felt like I was already accepted,” Baines said. “Regardless, you know what I mean? Like they were there to listen, and they listened. And then they believed in me, which made me believe in myself a little more in a way. Because I was like, oh, if they're willing to work with me, I'm definitely going to work with them. Because I've always just been that person to if you have the tools to do something, you need to take them because then it's an opportunity missed.”

Baines was in CAPTAIN housing for a year. During that time she finished high school. She then got a job, got on her feet, and learned how to pay bills and manage a budget. She says CAPTAIN’s housing program charges a percentage of whatever you make, adjusted to what you can reasonably afford.

Baines says one thing people should know about what it’s like to be young and homeless:

“You just feel like a burden no matter where you go, you always feel like you're a burden,” Baines said. “Like no matter how many times your friends can come to you and tell you that you're not a burden and they enjoy you having been there. At some point, you do realize that you are a burden, you are annoying almost everyone, you tend to feel like as much as they enjoy your company, you know, it gets old, you know that you are adding more stress to a situation and it's something that you probably felt as having a hard upbringing in general is something that you are used to feeling.”

Baines says if it weren’t for CAPTAIN, she probably would have ended up back in Long Island.

“And what would have happened, I think, I would have been stuck,” Baines said.

Gilpin says young people are increasingly running away because their families are not accepting of their gender identity.

“For youth who have come out and said, ‘You know, this is how I want to be,’ and parents aren't accepting of that,” Gilpin said. “So helping them understand, helping parents understand where the youth is coming from, help them find their voice to talk about those things. Other times, it's really like, ‘OK, we need some supports here. You know, let's talk about therapy. Let's talk about family counseling. What are things that we can do support you, in the family as a unit.’ So that we can support the youth in whatever they're going through. So, many times they haven't explored that or don't know what resources are out there, they don't know what's available to them, helping them navigate that. And a lot of times, that helps both parties realize that they do really love each other. It's a matter of just like coming back together again and saying, ‘OK, let's reset, let's talk about how we can move forward.’”

Gilpin says many parents don’t realize how serious their child feels about an issue until the child runs away.

“So it reached that point that both parties didn't really want to talk about or acknowledge, and now it's like, it's in their face, they have to deal with it,” Gilpin said. “And they realize that the youth has reached a point where they can have voice and advocacy or agency to do something on their own or like, ‘OK, oh, my God, we gotta, you know, let's, let's talk about this, I don't want you to be out of the home, I don't want you to be away.’ Or, you know, ‘Yes, this was the best thing for us. Because, you know, if we kept going the way we were, it would just escalate out of control.”

It Takes A Village

Gilpin says young people don’t just need a place to stay, but often counseling and possibly drug addiction treatment.

“So it's a lot of coordination of services, working with school districts working with those community supports, I mentioned family members, other agencies who might be involved in their situation. And then they meet with them weekly, to talk about the different things we talk about the goals they're working on, talk about the discharge planning,” Gilpin said. “And that's with all of our case managers, we do very robust case management services, very intensive work to try to get them connected to whatever resource they need to make sure they're helping step to the next point in their life, which leads to permanency, hopefully.”

Gilpin says they have about 10 case managers across different programs. He says drug use is more common in the 18 and older range.

“Generally, the kids coming to the youth shelter aren't heavily involved in drugs and alcohol at this point, they may be, you know, experimenting with it,” Gilpin said. “And they may have some connection to it in other ways. Many times there might be drug and alcohol use by their parent or guardian, which is affecting the housing stability. We do see that quite often. But other than that, it's mostly that higher age for youth.”

Gilpin says there is a 24 hour hotline kids can call and CAPTAIN will send someone to pick them up. The number is 518-369-9928.

“During business hours, we have the staff at the shelter, who actually field all the referral calls,” Gilpin said. “And then after hours, or weekends or holidays, whatever, we have that on-call number, we do a simple referral. So we would basically ask a series of questions, make sure that we understand the circumstances the youth are coming to us with demographics and other involvement they may have with other agencies, any kind of situations that we should be aware of with mental health or medical issues, you know, issues at home, things like that. Once we get through that process, then we make a decision on is this use appropriate for the current mix of youth we have? And do they meet the kind of the criteria we're looking for? Are we the best resource for them? If we are then we talk about doing an intake which will typically be that same day. And then you know, with the youth, we work out the transportation issue, get them to the shelter, and then we do a whole intake with them when they come in. You know, gather those information about their circumstances, their wellness, we do like a wellness interview with them, I guess would be the best way to say that, talk about suicidality. Is there any kind of issues that we need to be concerned with, thinking of self-harm, we want to make sure they get right to the hospital for an evaluation to make sure they're in a safe place. And then we just kind of try to integrate them right away into the house environment, talk about the rules, talk about what the situations for the home are, who's here, the staff, the schedule, whatever things they need to know, get their room assigned their room and their bed, everybody has their own bed, everybody has their own closet and dresser. Just orient them to the house and the routine. And then usually the next business day, the case manager meets with them, goes over farther into the packet with goals and a discharge plan.”

Gilpin says people shouldn’t assume that a homeless young person is a “bad kid.”

“Homelessness really cuts across all demographics,” Gilpin said. “And all income levels, we have kids come from very well-to-do families and kids from very low income poverty situations, it doesn't discriminate in any way shape or form, the people become unhoused, and face housing crises from all walks of life. And many times, I'd say largest percentage of time, youth are really the circumstances that happened to them, not so much [that] it's them initiating any kind of thing. So many times, it's the environment has changed at home, there's a new parent or caregiver or, you know, boyfriend, girlfriend, for mom or dad, and that just creates tension in some way, shape, or form, there's maybe harm that's happening at home. Or the youth provide some sort of agency or advocacy for themselves and say, I can't be here any longer, because it's not good for me, let me leave this situation in some way, shape, or form.”

Gilpin says many referrals come from schools.

“We have good connections with school counselors, administration, they know that something's wrong with a kid and something's off,” Gilpin said. “So they talk, find out the situation, and then they contact us right away and say, ‘Hey, here's the situation, that kid doesn't feel safe going home. You have space, can you have the youth come in?’ And then we'll make arrangements for them to come in. But yeah, I would say many times, it's not the kid, that's some sort of bad kid or, you know, in any way, shape or form, you know, breaking law or, you know, deviant in any way. It's really a bad set of circumstances that they're involved with, and they're trying to do their best. And we're there to support them.”

Gilpin says CAPTAIN fills in the gaps of state programs.

“Child Protective Services has some definite mandates, the counties, the states have a lot of different programs," Gilpin said. “However, it's those non-system youth, the kids that don't fit a definition or criteria to access those programs. So the runaway and homeless youth programs are there as a safety net and a catch-all for everybody else who doesn't fit that. So a lot of times, it's situations where police get called, there's no violence in the home, it's not the thing to go into hospital for an evaluation, they haven't broken any laws, but then everybody knows that that situation is so tense that it could further escalate into, you know, the youth running away, or the youth and parent or guardian have an altercation, you know, potentially, something will happen, right? So how do we kind of short-circuit that, allow for a respite or break or even a situation where the kid leaves and then gives this call? You know, it says, ‘Hey, I can't go home, mom's not letting me come in. Can I go somewhere,’ and yeah, come to us, we'll be able to help. So it really is a safety net program beyond all those other parts. And that's why CAPTAIN has really been invested in very heavily, because we know that so many kids will fall through the cracks.”

Gilpin says some young people are sexually or physically abused in the home. For those more serious cases, CAPTAIN works with the state.

“A lot of times, not only the youth have been exploited or abused, but it could be trafficking situations, kids are involved, you know, either with some sort of trafficker or family member, which is unfortunate at times, and other scenarios, online, things like that,” Gilpin said. “For us, when we talk about trafficking. It's almost exclusively commercial sexual exploitation of youth. There is some labor trafficking that happens with youth and minors, most of what we're talking about, it means the commercial exploitation of youth, so they're involved with a trafficker who is exploiting them, and trading sex for money or other kinds of goods or other things like that. So the youth somehow has gotten involved in that situation being exploited. And so we have various programs that work on that, but mostly, our Street Outreach program and our Safe Harbor program, are very invested involved in that so that we're looking to identify youth, not only victims, but also high risk youth who are participating in behavior that appears to be trafficking either online or in person, you know, going to hotels, explained money, unexplained gifts, multiple cell phones, things that would indicate that there's a problem emerging here. And then we quickly look to engage those youth, get them into services understand what trafficking looks like, could they be involved to develop trust, rapport, so we have conversations about it. And there's several programs out there that actually provide support services for youth in those situations where one you shelter as well safe environment, get them out of whatever home environment, they're in or place their living, that trafficker has access to them. And we don't allow visitors so there is a chance for them to be removed from that, start talking about it start thinking about [what] they're involved in.”

Gilpin says while most youth referrals come from schools, about a quarter come from law enforcement.

“When they come across a situation, they find a youth who's walking the streets, they respond to something in the home environment, they get alerted about a situation that might be trafficking, they know they can contact us and that the youth can come to us for, you know, a short period of time for the crisis intervention, and then we'll start to work on that to get things in place, and really good, strong communication back and forth,” Gilpin said. “But law enforcement is definitely frontline, understanding what the issues are. So they they're responding to the home environment where there is a fight or there is you know, kids or parents are destroying something, neighbors call or they call. But then they let us know, so that we can help because they know that if the youth had some other supports… That would probably work out in their favor.”

Get Help

Gilpin says if you’re being abused at home, CAPTAIN can help.

“There's lots of resources out there, CAPTAIN is one of them,” Gilpin said. “You can give us a call, we can help you, we can walk you through. When you come to us, it's a safe environment. And we'll be able to then advocate for you and what you need, and make sure that we can help you on what that next step might be.”

According to the Voices of Youth Count from the University of Chicago, about 4.2 million young people experience homelessness each year in the U.S. About 700,000 are unaccompanied minors, meaning they are not part of a family. On any given night, about 41,000 unaccompanied youth aged 13-25 experience homelessness.

I think we’ve all had that moment, when we’re walking along sipping a latte on a crisp fall day, smiling about how good we feel in this particular outfit, thinking about our evening plans… When you look down and see an unhoused person.

I wish I could tell you that I often go up to them and introduce myself and ask them how they’re doing. I wish I could tell you that I walk around offering my cell phone to people who might need to call home. I wish I could tell you I don’t avert my eyes and keep walking every time.

But I do. I think we all do. And I think we all know we need to stop.

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