OCO’s YES! Program Reaching Out During Runaway Prevention Month

FULTON, NY – In recognition of November being National Runaway Prevention Month OCO’s Youth Emergency Services (YES!) Program will be busy spreading the word and educating the community on the issue of homeless youth in Oswego County and the services that YES! offers to help combat these issues and provide assistance to those in need.

Each year OCO’s YES! program provides services to hundreds of homeless youth in Oswego County.

In 2008, YES! received 320 calls to its 24-hour hot line from runaway, homeless or at-risk youth, with more than 267 receiving basic needs services such as food, clothing and shelter as well as on-going case support services.

Heather Robinson (left) and Amy Baldwin of OCO’s Youth Emergency Services Program prepare paper backpacks that will be displayed at the new boat launch, Indian Point, in Fulton.
Heather Robinson (left) and Amy Baldwin of OCO’s Youth Emergency Services Program prepare paper backpacks that will be displayed at the new boat launch, Indian Point, in Fulton.

In addition YES! made 1471 referrals to youth for health, mental health, social, and other services.

One of the most effective programs offered through OCO’s Youth Services is their Street Outreach Services (SOS).

Acting as a bridge to engage youth in services they may not be aware of, or are reluctant to seek, SOS provides street involved youth with information about services that are available to them and offers them the assistance they need to address their unique situation.

SOS combines the efforts of the Street Outreach Team with youth drop-in centers to offer a unique and effective way to reach youth with important information that can have a positive impact on their lives.

Street Outreach Team members combine fliers, posters and personal contact to reach youth in Fulton, Oswego, Hannibal, Mexico, Phoenix, Sandy Creek, and Pulaski.

In addition, SOS has established drop-in centers in Hannibal (in the basement of Kenney Middle School, Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m.) and Mexico (in the Wilcox Memorial Center, Spring Street, Tuesdays from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m.) where youth can spend time after school and play games, socialize, participate in arts and crafts, go on outings and much more.

Last year, the SOS team contacted more than 1,600 youth throughout Oswego County and hosted a very special event to help raise awareness of homelessness in Oswego County.

“In September we hosted our second annual ‘Playing For Poverty,’ a food aid concert for Oswego County at the War Memorial in Fulton,” said Heather Robinson, of the YES! Program. “Thanks to the support we received from area musicians and local businesses this year’s ‘Playing For Poverty’ was a tremendous success as we raised awareness of the homeless problem in our county, collected some much needed food supplies for our area food pantries and provided youth with an exciting afternoon of music and fun.”

During the month of November OCO’s YES! Program will once again look to raise the awareness of homelessness in Oswego County by setting up a special display at the new boat launch, Indian Point, in Fulton.

Rural Host Home Specialist with OCO’s YES! Program, Amy Baldwin said, “We want to impress upon our community that homelessness does indeed exist in Oswego County. In our county homelessness is not so much people living on the street and sleeping in boxes. For homeless youth in Oswego County it’s going from friend to friend or relative to relative, couch to couch as they attempt to find a place to stay. We provided street outreach sessions to more than 330 youth last year. To help get the message across of how prevalent homelessness is in Oswego County we will be setting up a display of 320 paper backpacks, one for each youth who contacted us at our 24-hour hotline in 2008. In addition we will also have a number of display boards with statistics and information, including how community members can help us address the issue of homelessness and how they can become a host home. We hope to establish a similar display in Oswego later in the month.”

With the number of homeless youth increasing, the need for Host Homes continues to grow.

One way the YES! Program provides support to homeless youth is through volunteer Host Home families.

These families open up their homes to youth that have runaway or have nowhere else to go.

OCO YES! works with the youth to reconcile with families whenever possible and to empower the youth to make the correct choices.

Currently YES! is recruiting families who would like to open their heart and their home to provide a safe, temporary place to stay while YES! staff members work with the youth to achieve a more permanent living situation.

“We are looking for host homes of any style, from parents and grandparents to non-parents, from single households to large households. All you need is the availability of an extra bed, a private space for a youth, and a big heart,” said Baldwin.

Prevention and Early Intervention Program Manager, Kathleen Knopp explained that each host home is certified through the NYS Office of Children & Family Services with each family receiving a thorough orientation and monthly training.

“We provide our host families with an understanding of what youth development is and what our philosophy is towards helping youth.  It is important that host families offer a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere. Host homes also enjoy the flexibility of choosing their own schedules depending on how often they want to provide shelter for a runaway or homeless youth. They can also make other decisions such as specifying the age or gender of the youth they wish to help,” she said.

Baldwin added that families have found that being a host home is a very rewarding experience and are happy that they are able to provide non-judgmental support and a safe home-like environment to youth that are in need.

“I encourage those who are able, to consider becoming a host home.  It’s a wonderful way to make a positive impact and help change a young person’s life for the better,” she said.

In addition to the display at Fulton’s Indian Point, the YES! Program’s Street Outreach Team will be speaking with area organizations, social clubs, businesses, faith organizations and other community groups throughout the month of November as they strive to educate the public about the issues facing runaway and homeless youth and educating the community about possible solutions to the problem and the role they can play in preventing youth from running away.

“We want to inspire community members to become actively involved in the prevention of runaway youth, added Baldwin. “There are a number of things that we can do as individuals to help alleviate the problem of runaway youth in Oswego County.”

Following are examples of actions that can make a real difference:

Listen to teens. Give them information and support.  If they are considering running away, remind them that it can help to talk to someone.

Make sure they have the OCO YES! 24-hot hotline number, 342-7618 or toll-free at 1-877-342-7618.

Report abuse and neglect.

Become an OCO Youth Services volunteer by calling 342-7532.

Support OCO YES! with donations of goods or money.

“We also welcome feedback from community members who would like to share their thoughts and ideas of how we can effectively address the issue of homelessness in Oswego County,” she added.

For more information on OCO’s Youth Emergency Services program or to have a representative speak to your group or organization, call Baldwin at 342-7532.

OCO Youth Emergency Services (YES!) is funded by the NYS Office of Children and Family Services, through the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

OCO is a private, non-profit agency that has been supporting communities throughout Oswego County since 1966 and touches the lives of more than 20,000 people annually.

OCO is a United Way of Greater Oswego County member agency.

For more information, visit www.oco.org