OCO’s YES! Program To Expand Host Home Project

OSWEGO, NY – For more than 15 years Oswego County Opportunities’ Youth Emergency Services Program (YES!) has been providing support and encouragement to runaway and homeless youth in Oswego County.

As the recipient of a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, OCO’s YES! Program is able to help even more youth in crisis.

Prevention & Early Intervention Program Manager, Kathleen Knopp is excited about the possibilities the grant provides.

“We are happy to be one of only 19 recipients of this grant in the country,” said Knopp. “The Rural Host Home Project Demonstration Grant is allowing us to add to our staff and recruit additional Rural Host Homes in Oswego County.”

Knopp explained that Rural Host Homes provide an invaluable service as they offer runaway and homeless youth in crisis with temporary shelter until a more permanent housing arrangement can be established.

Currently, YES! has access to four Rural Host Homes and is looking to add four more in the near future.

“We are currently accepting applications from Oswego County families who would like to volunteer to become a host home. All they need is the availability of an extra bed, a private space for a youth, and a big heart,” Knopp said.

Enhancement Services Coordinator, Kristin LaBarge added that a thorough interview and screening process insures a successful match between the youth and the host family.

“Our host families have appropriate expectations of the youth coming into their home. We make sure that the youth understands what those expectations are and are willing to abide by them. We also provide orientations and monthly training for the host families to help them understand 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. These young people often are coming from a negative family situation and are not use to functioning in a family environment without conflict. To step into another family, even for a short time, comes with another set of anxieties. Host families need to be welcoming and recognize these factors.  What the host family may consider to be ‘normal’ family activities, such as having meals together, doing dishes, doing laundry may never have been experienced by the youth they are hosting. A welcoming, supporting environment can help ease these anxieties,” she said.

Host homes provide shelter for up to 15 days, with the average length of stay being 1 to 3 days.

While the youth is there, staff from OCO’s YES! Program visit the host family daily and provide transportation for the youth to an OCO office where they can work with the youth during the day to help them stay connected with their school and establish a stable, more permanent living environment for them as soon as possible.

“We want to maintain a professional boundary between the host home and the youth. We don’t want young people to get so connected that when they leave the host home there is another loss for them to cope with,” added Knopp.

“Our goal is not to encourage youth to leave their family, but to reunite with them if at all possible. We focus on helping them work through the conflict and reunification with their family. If that is not possible, we help them recognize other support such as friends or extended family members,” added LaBarge.

With the expansion of the program OCO’s YES! Program is looking to add four new Rural Host Homes in Oswego County to help meet the demand for its services.

“Because it is not easily noticeable, many people do not realize that there is a problem with homeless youth in our community, however we receive approximately 250 to 300 calls a year from homeless youth. The Rural Host Home Project benefits our community in many ways. For youth in crisis, knowing that for this moment they have someone they can trust and a safe place to stay while they focus on their other needs is very comforting. For our volunteer host home providers it is a very rewarding experience as they enjoy the satisfaction of helping a young person in a time of crisis. They recognize the value of young people and are offering their support out of the goodness of their heart,” said Knopp.

For more information on becoming a Rural Host Home or the OCO’s YES! Program, call Knopp at 342-7532.

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