They’re hard to find and sometimes even harder to assess. Yet, homeless young adults surround us, trying to get through their days as best they can while facing some of the worst realities you can find on the street.

Understanding these youth – and especially understanding how to connect them to the services they need – has been the focus of a four-year research study co-sponsored by UMOM and the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University.

This year’s findings have just been released and the results are disturbing:

  • Almost a third (31%) of young adults surveyed are sex-trafficked.
  • Nearly the same number (32.1%) identify as having been labor trafficked – which means they’re functioning as indentured servants under the direction or threat of a trafficker.

Most of these young adults were drawn into these circumstances at about age 16. The reasons for each are the same: most report they traded sex or work for food, money, clothing or a place to stay. Yet, even the word ‘trade’ isn’t strong enough; these youths and young adults are usually forced or coerced to exchange sex while being victimized by their trafficker. Drugs and protection are additional reasons these youth originally were trafficked as children.

When asked about issues relating to mental health, young adults who have been trafficked report higher levels of mental illness than those who have not been trafficked. Among the diagnoses mentioned include:

  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Bi-polar disorder
  • Schizophrenia and
  • Borderline Personality disorder.

Many of these young people are also physically ill, with few options for treatment. Alcohol and drug abuse are also common.

UMOM’s lead for this study is Melissa Brockie, our New Day Center Director. Brockie says this population is especially challenging because of the life circumstances they’ve already faced.

“So many of these young adults were bullied, sexually or physically abused, and/or were kicked out of the home or ran away because their families rejected their sexual identification,” said Brockie. “Many have had negative interactions with law enforcement or the state’s Department of Child Safety. So, when providers try to find them to offer services, these young people are inherently cautious and may not always come forward.”

The goal of the study – which has been conducted in Phoenix and Tucson – is to provide insights to providers and communities. Over the four years of the study, there has been a significant effort to train staff at the participating agencies, with new services implemented through UMOM’s Tumbleweed programs and Our Family Services. UMOM is also conducting capacity-building training at the Halle Women’s Center and the New Day Center (UMOM’s main campus) to educate staff and better support victims of trafficking.

Brockie believes the work is essential. “More awareness and training may increase the chances these youths can be identified and connected with services.”

You are also an essential part of everything we do. Your support is the fuel that gives us the power to be involved in community-changing studies like this one. To learn more about how you can help, please visit us at or give a gift at