The Houston Division has selected the YMCA of Greater Houston to receive the Director’s Community Leadership Award.
YMCA International Services is a unique branch of the YMCA of Greater Houston. It was established in 1978 to respond to a large influx of refugees from Southeast Asia and to address the immediate resettlement needs of those individuals and families who were fleeing from persecution in their home countries. Since that time, YMCA International Services has developed into a multiservice agency that provides services to Houston's refugee and immigrant communities, with a special focus on facilitating and fostering self-sufficiency.
Human trafficking is the most significant civil rights subprogram matter in the Houston area. YMCA International is an integral member of the Houston Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA), which was created in 2004 as a collaboration of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and area social service organizations to identify and assist victims of human trafficking. HTRA members include the U.S. Attorney's Office, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Harris County Sheriff's Office, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Department of State, and Department of Labor. The YMCA has also spoken on behalf of law enforcement with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that were reluctant to deal with law enforcement in the past. Thus, the number of NGOs that refer cases or provide human trafficking intelligence to law enforcement has substantially grown.
YMCA International has worked closely with the Houston HTRA since its inception and has provided critical services to hundreds of human trafficking victims in Houston. The range of services includes social, financial, medical, educational, housing, and mental health, as well as legal assistance with immigration status and issues. In the course of providing services, the YMCA emphasizes cooperation with law enforcement and facilitates communication between law enforcement and victims.
During one significant case worked by HTRA, 99 victims were identified and rescued. This has been the biggest human trafficking case in the continental United States to date. The YMCA promptly reached out to several NGOs outside the Houston area to provide housing and other assistance. In 2007 HTRA conducted a human trafficking investigation regarding a domestic servitude victim from Indonesia. The victim was subsequently awarded monetary restitution—the first in Texas—and the YMCA assisted the victim with obtaining financial advice to safeguard the victim's money.
The YMCA also regularly responds to print, radio, and television media requests to discuss basic human trafficking awareness and services available to human trafficking victims. Their tireless efforts in the areas of human trafficking prevention, education, and victim assistance have had a significant impact on the Houston community.