OSWEGO, NY – A group of volunteers braved the elements recently to drive home the seriousness of the plight of the homeless.
Washington Square Park (East Park) is being used by Oswego County Opportunities this month in order to raise awareness of National Runaway Prevention Month.
They set up a display to make the public aware of runaways and the homeless in Oswego County. It features a large green light bulb cut out of plywood, which is the symbol of National Runaway Prevention Month. Also, OCO held a staffed demonstration next to the display last week. Staff members sat on a couch in the park as a way of giving a true picture of homelessness in Oswego County.
“Here in Oswego County a lot of times homelessness is individuals or families who are sleeping on couches in other people’s homes and things like that,” explained Brian Coleman, OCO homeless services program manager. “We are trying to raise awareness.”
Three staff and some students were helping out recently in East Park.
When the sun was out, and they were more visible, some passing motorists honked in support of their efforts, Coleman said.
“We have had a couple people stop by and ask about services,” he added.
In the Oswego school district right now there are about 70 kids who are considered homeless.
“They’re what we call ‘doubled up.’ They are staying with another family or a friend – something of that nature. In Fulton right now, they’re in the 80s. We have staff in Mexico, Hannibal and Phoenix as well. They are each probably mid-40s,” Coleman said.
Since the start of the new school year, they are already looking at a couple hundred kids that have been identified as homeless.
“We usually see a little bit of increase during the fall and winter and it will drop off a little bit in the spring and then right before summer you’ll see it pick up a little bit again,” Coleman explained.
November is National Runaway Prevention Month.
Between 1.6 million and 2.8 million youth run away annually.
“The face of homelessness in Oswego County is the youth who is spending the night on their friend’s couch or the family that is staying in the home of a family member or friend,” Coleman said. “In 2012, OCO assisted 897 youth who found themselves without permanent stable housing.”
More than 800 young people run away and are homeless in Oswego County in any one-year period, according to county figures.
“The first step in preventing youth from making the decision to run is an understanding of the facts of why youth run away,” according to Diane Cooper-Currier.
Cooper-Currier, executive director of OCO, noted that there are a lot of circumstances and extenuating situations why young people leave home.
“Recently we had one who was 16 and had been out of the house for about a year. She left home due to an abusive step-father.
She was living from friend to friend, what we would call ‘couch surfing.’ That’s what young people do as well as homeless families in Oswego County,” she said. “They do that until they run out of options. So, this young woman at 16 got a hold of our services and as a result she is staying in school. We were able to connect her back up with her mother and healing that family situation.”
This past year, OCO served more than 600 individuals who were homeless, more than 300 of them, were young people.
For more information, contact OCO at 598-4717 or visit the agency’s website at www.oco.org
OCO also operates a 24/7 Homeless Hotline: 342-7618.