Nonprofit fighting human trafficking among homeless youth closes

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DENVER -- An organization dedicated to helping homeless youth soon no longer has a home itself. Praxus, which operates out of a small office at West 10th  Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, closed its doors Friday.

The nonprofit did aggressive street outreach among runaways and homeless youth in an effort to curb human trafficking.

Agency director Mary Durant points to the recent arrest of 49-year-old Sean Crumpler in Aurora.  He faces sex crime charges for allegedly housing up to  a dozen gay runaways in exchange for sex.

“He had a specific vulnerability that he was looking for that he knew he could exploit and that was youth needing a place to stay, youth experiencing homelessness,” said Durant.

She said her organization reached 1,240 homeless youth across Denver last year, hoping to intercept them before someone like Sean Crumpler did.

His arrest affidavit said he liked to go “hunting” for victims. “Here we have a guy who's like ‘I’m hunting that group.’ It makes my heart sink,” said Durant.

But in a few weeks the efforts of Praxus to combat human trafficking will end, even as police say human trafficking among runaways and the homeless is growing.

Donations have dried up.  Funds to deliver what Durant calls 'Harm Reduction Kits' have run out.

“We want to make sure that people are protected and they`re able to negotiate safe sex if they have to be in a situation to engage in sex for whatever reason,” said Durant.

Her volunteers would approach homeless youth between the ages of 15 and 25, with supplies for safe sex, supplies that reduced the risk of infection and disease from drug use and information about community resources for those willing to stop prostituting themselves for a free place to stay.

Praxus even offered street testing for HIV and Hepatitis C, with results available in twenty minutes. “We`ll be able to connect people to care if something comes up within that test,” said Durant.

Some of the volunteers for Praxus were homeless youth themselves, who at one time engaged in survival sex.

We spoke to a 24-year-old woman named Kayla (not her real name) who admitted as a teen she exchanged sex for free housing. “In order to get a place, or to have something to survive, a roof over your head or a safe place to sleep you have to have sex with them,” said Kayla.

Kayla is still homeless but said she now prefers sleeping under a bridge rather than allowing herself to be exploited but said it’s a tough decision for many homeless youth. “You can`t say no because you`re afraid of what they`re going to do, either kick you out or not let you eat,” said Kayla before adding, “I feel it`s pretty sad that Praxus is closing down.”

If you want to know more about efforts to combat human trafficking in Colorado follow this link.