In recognition of November being National Runaway Prevention Month, Oswego County Opportunities’ (OCO) Homeless Services Program will be busy spreading awareness and educating the community on the issues faced by runaway and homeless youth in Oswego County.
“A question we are often faced with from the public is ‘are there homeless youth in Oswego County?’ said Continuum of Care Program Manager for OCO Homeless Services Jill Griffey. “Absolutely. You may not find homeless teenagers in the ‘normal’ places such as under a bridge, cardboard box or in an alley because many homeless youth do what is called “couch surfing”. This is when youth move from friend to friend, sleeping on a couch, floor, or wherever someone has room for them.”
In 2017, OCO worked with 1,335 youth under the age of 21 who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. OCO’s Homeless Services program provides food, clothing, shelter, and case management services to hundreds of homeless youth in Oswego County every year. Last year OCO was able to provide these young people with over 5,000 emergency items including clothing, food, and hygiene items which was nearly double what was given to youth in the previous year. Throughout the month of November, OCO is collecting unopened packages of socks for the youth they serve. Donations can be dropped off at OCO’s Midtown Plaza Office, 18 E Cayuga St., Oswego, or OCO’s Main Office at 239 Oneida Street, Fulton.
So, why is it that youth are running away from home? Approximately 34% of youth reported being sexually abused before leaving home and 46% of youth reported physical and/or emotional abuse before leaving home. Other common reasons youth report for leaving are conflict between parent/guardian, family financial problems, and transitioning from foster care or other public systems.
Runaway and homeless youth have an increased likelihood of high risk behaviors such as unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners and intravenous drug use. They also have a greater risk of severe anxiety, PTSD, depression, suicide, poor health and nutrition and low self-esteem. Approximately 75% of these youth have dropped out of school or will drop out of school.
To help assist runaway and homeless youth in Oswego County, OCO has a Youth Emergency Services (YES!) program. YES! Staff can work with any youth age 21 and under that is in a homeless situation or at risk of being homeless. Youth can be connected to YES! through street outreach, advocates in schools, referrals from other programs, stopping by an OCO office or by calling the Crisis Hotline, (315) 342-7618 or toll free at 1-888-342-7618.
Staff assist youth in helping to find stable housing and connect them to other resources. If youth are in need of immediate shelter, OCO has a homeless youth shelter licensed through the Office of Child and Family Services. Recently the shelter expanded from a 4 bed facility to 8 beds to serve the growing number of youth in our community. This is a voluntary program for youth, who otherwise lack a safe and stable living environment. Youth at the YES! shelter are provided with 24 hour support and supervision, case management, recreational activities, life skills building and meals.
Another option for youth through OCO is the PATH (Program to Assist the Teenage Homeless). A transitional living program for youth age 16 through 21 that allows youth to live in an apartment in the community while receiving daily case management. Staff help youth to gain stability and learn to be independent. This is achieved through teaching independent living skills such as employment, education, money management, and interpersonal skills.
“If you have questions about YES! or you know someone 21 and under that is facing housing issues, please contact OCO’s Crisis Hotline at (315) 342-7618 or toll free at 1-888-342-7618, during normal business hours,” said Griffey. “If a youth is in an emergency situation outside of normal business hours, please call 211 to be connected to our shelter. Another way to get involved is to join the team at OCO. Go to www.oco.org to check out employment opportunities available that work with at risk youth.”
OCO is a private, non-profit agency that has been supporting communities throughout Oswego County since 1966. A member agency of the United Way of Greater Oswego County, OCO provides more than 50 vital services throughout 100 separate locations. For more information, visit www.oco.org. Did you know? It’s OCO!