OSWEGO, NY – In these challenging times life can be difficult, especially for young adults who find themselves homeless with nowhere to go and often, no one to turn to.
Thanks to Oswego County Opportunities many of these young adults are able to find the support and guidance they need.
OCO’s PATH program and its Youth Emergency Services (YES!) program help these young adults become contributing members of the community by providing them with temporary housing and education that helps them develop the skills needed to be able to live independently.
Last year YES! received 300 phone calls from young adults in the county looking for help, and while the majority of them are reunited with their family or a family member, there are some that do not have that option, that’s where PATH comes in.
A transitional living program for homeless youth, PATH works closely with its clients to ensure that they will be able to reach their goal of living self sufficiently.
All applicants for the program are screened to make sure that they are committed to making a positive change in their life.
“The young adults that we welcome into the PATH program are good people who, for no fault of their own, have found themselves in a homeless and seemingly helpless situation. Once our YES! program has helped to meet their basic needs, such as food and a temporary place to stay, we work with them to find a more permanent solution to their situation,” explained Karen Merrill, transitional services coordinator with OCO.
Once in the PATH program, participants meet with a youth specialist six days a week to help them learn how to live independently.
There are also weekly group meetings where participants can share their experiences and learn from each other as well.
“Most people learn the skills needed to live independently from their parents. For many different reasons, these young adults never had that opportunity to learn things that we take for granted, such as daily household chores, preparing meals, and developing and living on a budget. Our staff helps them to develop these skills and more as they prepare them to live on their own,” said Merrill.
In addition to teaching participants the basic skills, PATH also works with them to establish a goal for the future so that they will be able to sustain themselves and maintain their new, independent lifestyle.
“We help them focus on a productive future that will put them on the path they choose. Whether it’s to finish school and go on to college or find employment, we help them access the community resources that are available and refer them to other services that can help them reach their goal. We do more than just advocate for them, we help them connect with the resources, show them how to successfully access them, and even make sure that they are able to get there,” added Merrill.
Participants in the PATH program live in one of OCO’s transitional living apartments located at various sites throughout the county.
As well as routine daily visits, they receive unscheduled visits from staff members to insure that they are doing well.
The young people also have 24-hour on call access to a youth specialist.
“We are very proud of the effectiveness of our PATH program and the success rate that it enjoys,” said deputy executive director, Sarah Irland. “The young adults that we serve with our PATH program are good people that have fallen on difficult times. The majority have been abused or neglected and have either an absentee parent or a parent with substance abuse or mental health issues. These young people need support and guidance and we are happy to be able to provide it.”
According to Irland, the young adults the PATH program served in 2009 had some remarkable achievements:
100% obtained on-going health care
100% gained Job Readiness Skills
91% enrolled in educational/vocational or job training program
81% obtained at least part time employment
100% of youth discharged to stable housing
“Without the intervention they receive from the PATH program, homeless youth are not likely to survive or accomplish these goals,” she said.
Irland added that PATH has been recognized at the county, state and federal levels as a model program for dealing with homeless young adults.
Programs in other areas have been referred to OCO’s PATH program for ideas and suggestions for ways to improve their own programs.
However, most important is the recognition and gratitude that the PATH program receives from those it helps, as related by PATH participants.
“They gave me some place to live when I had no place to go and everything was bad at home. If it wasn’t for OCO’s PATH program I would still be going from place to place with no place to call home.”
“Before PATH, I lived with my grandmother but I had to move out. During this time, I lived in an old unoccupied trailer. It was winter and needless to say, I froze. PATH gave me a place to stay, and provided me with transportation to medical appointments. Thanks to PATH, I’ve learned valuable skills such as better housekeeping, staying drug free and doing my own laundry.”
“Before I was taken under PATH’s wing, I was without a home. I was forced to stay at different places almost every night. I bounced around from town to town; anywhere I could find a place to sleep. Since I’ve joined PATH I have an apartment, a job, some money saved up and new connections to help me progress, I am currently working on going to college as soon as possible and when that happens, PATH will have saved another youth from disaster because I don’t know what I would have had to do to get by if I was never accepted into PATH.”
“These are just some of the many responses we have received from Oswego County young people who benefited from PATH,” said Merrill. “Most community members do not realize the amount of homelessness there is in Oswego County. Homeless young adults ‘couch surf” among friends and sometimes relatives’ homes as they have no stable living situation. Those that have no place to go often live out of sight in secluded areas; they don’t necessarily live on the street. Because you can’t see them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.”
“The PATH program is one that is very close to our hearts,” added Irland. “The services that it provides to these young adults in need are essential to maintaining the overall health of our community. It truly makes a difference by empowering young adults and putting them on a path to success.”
Those interested in learning more about the PATH program, or those who would like to make a donation, may contact Merrill 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.
It is a United Way of Greater Oswego County member agency.
For more information, visit www.oco.org