Moving Them Off the Streets: Homeless Youth Program Helps Get At-Risk and Homeless Youth to a Safe Place
CLEVELAND, Dec. 16, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — It happens – right in our own backyard. Teens forced to “couch-surf” after losing their homes to foreclosure. Young adults kicked to the curb because of their sexual preference. Children running away to find safety from violent, abusive households. According to The National Center on Family Homelessness, more than 32,900 children were homeless in Ohio in 2010: from the eastern suburbs, across the city to the western suburbs, youth homelessness is an issue within the community: Fortunately, there is help.
For five years, Bellefaire JCB (Jewish Children’s Bureau) has provided assistance to at-risk and homeless youth through its Homeless Youth Program, a service designed to get children, teens and young adults to a safe place and provide them with the short-term care they need to work through a crisis or issue at home. These crises can include drugs & alcohol, physical & sexual abuse, violence, gender/sexual identity issues, and more.
The Homeless Youth Program has two facets: one that provides short-term care, with the goal to stabilize the crisis, reunite youth with their families (if safe and appropriate), arrange shelter for up to 14 days with a trained respite family, and assure 24-hour case supervision for youth under the age of 18. The second facet has the team hitting the streets – literally – to help those in need who are 21 or younger.
About a year ago, the Homeless Youth Program expanded to include a Street Outreach Program that encourages at-risk youth to “run with your feelings, not your feet.” Program staff members are available at libraries, 24-hour coffee shops and other teen-friendly locations to provide help and hope to runaway and homeless teens.
Staff members hit the streets on Thursday and Friday evenings, and then host activity-centered programs on Saturday afternoons. These drop-in locations provide youth with a safe place to hang out, get help and access to resources, and find someone to listen to their stories. On average, Saturday activities attract 40-60 youth – they have an open mic, play games, watch movies, make crafts, and eat, while learning that there is help available.
“Our goal is to find at-risk youth, help stabilize their situation, build trust and then connect them with additional services for ongoing support,” said Karen McHenry, LISW, LCDC program director. “We meet them where they are, listen and hear their story, and then work to get them to a safe place.”
A Homeless Youth Hotline also serves to identify potential at-risk youth. At minimum, this hotline receives one call per day from parents or other family members, concerned neighbors, teachers and other school officials, etc. At-risk youth are also prone to reach out for help, sometimes phoning staff members several times before asking for help.
The police are involved, too. McHenry conducts roll call training with various police departments to help them identify at-risk youth and understand when to call the Homeless Youth Program to intervene.
Even the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is lending a helping hand through Safe PlaceÃ‚®, a “national outreach initiative [that] provides youth immediate access to a network of safety and support services such as food, shelter and family counseling.” Kids in need can approach the RTA operator, who will radio for assistance and transport the youth to the care of a designated Safe Place agency, such as Bellefaire JCB.
“Once on the streets, these kids can fall victim to: drug and alcohol abuse; drug dealing; physical and sexual abuse; prostitution or ‘survival’ sex; violence; anxiety disorders, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); or even suicide,” said McHenry. “The mission of the Homeless Youth Program is to stabilize the situation and then leverage partnerships with necessary community resources and services to provide continued short- and long-term care.”
Since the Homeless Youth Program’s inception in 2006, more than 140 youth have been helped. However, this number does not include the kids who have called the hotline or received case management services through this service – for example, in 2010-2011 the Homeless Youth Program received 566 calls on the hotline. The Street Outreach Program, which started in October 2010, has served more than 1,300 kids, and has distributed more than 2,050 food/drink packages and more than 650 health/hygiene kits to homeless and at-risk youth.
About the Homeless Youth Program
Through education, Bellefaire JCB’s Homeless Youth Program is committed to preventing youth from leaving home and homelessness among youth. When needed, the Homeless Youth Program initiates an immediate response to help at-risk or homeless youth, delivering crisis stabilization, providing emergency respite care, reuniting youth with their families – when safe and appropriate – and assuring 24-hour case supervision.
About Bellefaire JCB
Founded as an orphanage in 1868, Bellefaire JCB provides behavioral health, education, and prevention services for children, adolescents and their families. Services include: Counseling in the home, community and school; Adoption; Foster Care; Homeless Youth Program; the Monarch Center for Autism, which includes a day school and residential services; the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister Association; Preschool Programs; and Residential Treatment for youth with behavioral and emotional issues. Visit www.bellefairejcb.org.
SOURCE Bellefaire JCB