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OCO Recognizes Runaway Prevention Month

Submitted Article

FULTON, NY – OCO’s Youth Emergency Services (YES!) Program wishes to remind residents of Oswego County that November is National Runaway Prevention month.

During the month of November OCO’s YES! Program will be busy raising the public’s awareness of the issues facing runaway youth and educating the community about possible solutions to the runaway problem and the role they can play in preventing youth from running away.

OCO Recognizes Runaway Prevention Month
Sarah Irland, director of OCO’s Youth Services Division (left) and Kristin LaBarge, coordinator of OCO’s Youth Emergency Services Program review notes prior to a meeting of the Oswego County Runaway and Homeless Youth Task Force.

“We will be extending our outreach efforts,” said Kristin LaBarge, coordinator of OCO’s YES! Program. “We want to ensure that teens, teachers and other community members are aware of our services and know that they can turn to us for assistance regarding homeless teens.  We will also be reaching out to businesses and organizations and encouraging them to help us address the issue of homeless teens in Oswego County.”

LaBarge said that national statistics indicate:

1 in 7 children, almost 1,234 each day, will run away from home before the age of 18.

Between 1.3 and 2.8 million youth are on the streets because they’ve either run away or they’ve been forced out of their homes.

Some will return within as little as a few days, others remain on the streets never to return.

The National Runaway Switchboard handles more than 115,000 phone calls each year.

Some youth run because of difficult situations with their parents or guardians. Others because of abuse or neglect, or an inability to cope with parental substance abuse.

According to LaBarge, the problem with homeless teens in Oswego County is increasing and becoming more visible as well.

“We received more than 300 calls from youth in crisis during 2006.  More than 270 of those youth engaged in services beyond the crisis call,” she said.

While offering services to runaway youth YES! was able to determine that in Oswego County the most common age of runaway youth is 17 – 18.

The most common problems faced by youth include:

Conflict with parents or parental figure

Unemployment

Homelessness

Education related issues

Victims of abuse or neglect

Being pregnant or parenting

Mental Health related issues

LaBarge added that recently she is noticing a disturbing trend that YES! is actively working to address.

When it comes to accessing services in Oswego County, LaBarge cited narrowing eligibility requirements for some services as a major obstacle to homeless teens.

“Access to many of the services that can benefit homeless teens require six points of identification, often, acquiring the six points of identification through securing a social security card, birth certificate, drivers license, or non-drivers ID is very difficult and challenging to obtain without the support of family and adults in the youth’s lives. We have been very busy advocating to our state representatives, Social Services and DMV to find ways to address this problem and help us better serve homeless youth,” said LaBarge.

As a result, LaBarge said that the YES! Program is seeing an increase in the amount of homeless teens that are coming to them right off the street.

“They are in higher need of support since it is getting more difficult for them to find shelter and access services. They are hungry and in need of a place to stay. We do our best to provide them with nourishing food and a safe living environment, including the use of our voluntary host home families,” she said.

Other environments that youth make use of could be with another family member, a friend, neighbor or an adult they know that could take them in temporarily while a game plan is developed to help them access services on their own and find a place where they can stay on a more permanent basis.

Representatives from the YES! Program assist the homeless youth by helping them access whatever services they are eligible for.

They also visit agencies that provide community services and help set up and furnish their own living space.

Others receive help through OCO’s PATH Program that offers supervised, transitional living services to homeless youth.

LaBarge added that the top priority for her program is to reunite the youth with their family and that on average 50% of youth that contact YES! are reunited with their family.

In addition to the increase in demand for services the other challenge facing the YES! Program is the decrease in available funds.

After seeing a $50,000 reduction in federal funding the program is faced with having to find ways to serve more homeless youth with fewer resources.

OCO Director of Youth Services, Sarah Irland, said that OCO is working collaboratively with the Oswego County Runaway and Homeless Youth Task Force to find ways to obtain the funds necessary to meet the growing homeless youth problem in Oswego County.

Made up of various youth services agencies as well as youth representatives, the task force works to problem solve and find ways to meet the increasing demand for services with fewer resources.

Members of the task force include: Brooke Fingland of the Hannibal School District; Colleen Martin of the Oswego County BOCES Learning Center; Kathy Buchiere of Oswego County DSS; Kathy Fenlon of the Youth Bureau; Cindy Albro of Farnham, Inc.; Kelli Otis of the Oswego County Probation Department; John Ferry    of the Dept. of Employment and Training; Sue Coffey, of the Oswego City Police Dept.; Jennifer Worden of OCO’s Health Division; Susan Mayer of Oswego Hospital Mental Health; Dave Canfield of the Youth Advocate Program; Gail Cooper of Catholic Charities; Laura Munski of OCO’s SAF Division; Sue Conant of the Hillside Children’s Center; Lawrence Perras of SUNY Oswego Center for Business and Community Development; Gary McIlvain of Career Employment Services; Grace Maxon, Youth Representative from Oswego; Terry Wilbur, Youth Representative from Hannibal; Ken Sturtz, Youth Representative from Mexico High School; Beth Pettit, Youth Representative from Oswego; and Kyle Clark, alternate Youth Representative from Fulton.

One initiative that is currently under way is a food drive to fill the YES! food pantry.

“Many of the homeless youth that come to us are living on the street. They are hungry and we like to offer them the nutritious food that they need. With the funding cuts that we are dealing with we are not able to purchase the amount of food we need so we have established our first food drive to fill our pantry. We are currently conducting our food drive in-house through all of OCO’s programs and in the Hannibal and Mexico communities where the OCO Street Outreach Program has Drop In centers for area youth,” said LaBarge.

She added that she would like to eventually branch out and seek community support for future food drives.

Irland said that the YES! Program is also seeking additional funding through the grant writing process and inviting businesses, organizations and concerned community members to lend their support to the program and help address the issue of homelessness in Oswego County.

“We gladly accept monetary donations as well as donations of food and clothing. I would be happy to speak with any business or civic organization that would like to know more about the YES! Program and the seriousness of teenage homelessness in Oswego County,” said Irland.

“YES! is a very successful and worthwhile program that benefits the youth we serve and the community,” added Irland. “The youth that we work with are here voluntarily and are willing to make changes and accept our advice. More than 90% of the youth that we serve are able to gain on-going, stable living conditions.”

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.

For more information on OCO’s Youth Emergency Services program, contact LaBarge at 342-7532.

OCO Inc. is a private, non-profit agency that has been supporting communities throughout Oswego County since 1966.

OCO, Inc. is a United Way of Greater Oswego county member agency.

For more information on OCO, visit www.oco.org