"Everybody is seeing an increase in both labor and sex trafficking," said Elaine Andino is the organization's director of partnerships. UAHT also leads the 55 member organization Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition.
She says in 2019, UAHT identified 133 victims of human trafficking in Greater Houston. Last year, it was only 33.
"By far and large, the most success we have in finding victims is really being out in the streets, in the communities building relationships," Andino explained.
To keep staff and volunteers safe, outreach in the streets was put on pause almost half of 2020. They also have not been able to reach possible victims in jails, juvenile detention centers, and schools because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"So, we began building new partnerships," Andino told FOX 26.
UAHT partnered with food banks and other groups running food distribution sites. They gave out fliers explaining to those who may be vulnerable to sex or labor trafficking what it is and where to get help.
Andino expects the number of victims they can identify will increase this year as they find ways to safely resume outreach on the streets.
"We've had already several disclosures even this month as we've been back out there," she noted.
However, even once they are able to find trafficking victims, there are more challenges.
Shelters for trafficking victims in Houston have decreased capacity from approximately 25 beds before the pandemic to about 10 now.
"When you're considering the vast problem that we have here that's virtually nothing," Andino concluded.
She says the organization has moved trainings, case management, and group counseling to virtual platforms.
If people want to help combat human trafficking, she suggests getting involved with an organization that is a part of the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition or any other group that addresses the socioeconomic needs of vulnerable communities.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.