WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Youth outreach experts in Waikiki are battling the clock to reach homeless teenage girls before they fall into prostitution as a way to survive.
They say pimps identify and approach them within 48 hours after they hit the street.
"It is a race to try to connect to youth as quickly as possible so we can try to help to provide healthy alternatives to this time of crisis as opposed to the less healthy alternatives that kids might pursue to survive," said Kent Anderson, Waikiki Health Center's chief high-risk officer.
He said some teens trade their bodies for food or shelter, a practice called survival sex. That practice can lead to prostitution.
Hale Kipa Youth Outreach supervisor Deborah Smith works hard to pull girls away from it.
"Generally they've been sort of coerced into it," she said. "Those are the ones we want to let know that there's a way to get out, a safe way to get out."
Some are as young as 14. Boys are also victimized.
Anderson said besides prostitution, street kids encounter drug dealers and other dangers.
"Most of our kids suffer with sleep deprivation because they can't sleep through the night. They're afraid either their stuff will be stolen or that somebody will come and harass them, kick them, maybe beat them," he said.
Anderson estimates about 700 homeless young people, runaways and at-risk youth will visit Youth Outreach's Waikiki drop-in center by the end of the year. They get food, a shower, change of clothes and counseling.
But Smith said homeless sweeps have made it harder to track the youth who live in homeless camps and hang out in Waikiki.
"They may come to every drop-in day for two or three weeks and then drop out of site and you don't see them for months and you don't know where they are," she said.
Homeless service providers estimate scores of homeless teens roam Waikiki on any given day. For pimps and predators they are prime targets.