Status of Current RHY Services
The universal goal of RHY programs is to assist youth in moving towards and adjusting to a safe and appropriate living arrangement. Of course, no homeless youth should be asked to return to a home in which physical, sexual or other abuse is the norm. However, where appropriate, youth are encouraged to return home or may also be referred to a youth shelter or to an appropriate transitional living program. Young people who are able to stay in the same community or in the same schools as before they became homeless have a better chance of avoiding the dangerous consequences for youth who do not have familiar support.1
- RHY Programs: Basic Services
- The National Runaway Switchboard
- When family reunification may not be appropriate
RHY Programs: Basic Services: | Back to TopRHY Programs provides services in three key areas:
Basic Center Programs offer crisis intervention and short-term shelter for runaway and homeless youth under the age of 18. Youth can access up to 21 days of shelter care as well as non-residential services. The intent of the program is to provide counseling to stabilize the crisis, develop a plan to address continuing services as needed once youth leave the program, and reunite youth with their family when appropriate.
The number of available shelters varies from state to state. Very few states have shelter access in every county of the state; more often shelter access is sporadic across both rural and urban areas. Beyond crisis intervention and short-term shelter residency, the services of services these programs are able to offer may also vary. Some Basic Center Programs receive funding from sources other than the Family and Youth Services Bureau of DHHS to provide shelter services for youth who in the custody of the child welfare system.
- Transitional Livingis a program for runaway and homeless youth ages 16 up to age 21 who are faced with the reality of not having a safe and stable living situation to which the can return. These youth must learn to live independently before they have developed the skills to do so successfully. Often referred to as a “TLP” in the RHY field, these programs have 18-21 months to help youth identify goals for the future and develop a plan that will allow them to reach those goals. Some programs also provide non-residential services such as on-going life skills training through TLP.
- Street Outreach Programs are designed to help youth living on the streets with the overall intent of linking them with support services. There are several models for conducting street outreach. At the very core of the program is a street outreach team that walks the streets and develops relationships with youth. In urban settings, a program might also have a van that travels around the city to various “hot spots” and hands out basic needs items such as clean clothing, blankets, food, or personal hygiene products. Drop-In Centers are often used in rural areas since it is rare to find a youth actually on the street. Rather, the youth might be staying with different friends, floating from one home to the next so they won’t be identified and sent home, a practice commonly known as “couch surfing”.
One of the goals of street outreach is to build relationships between outreach staff and street youth. A range of education, survival aid intervention, and prevention services are offered to youth who are at risk of abuse and sexual exploitation. Street-based education on survival skills is provided as well as survival aid packages for youth encountered on the street. The street based education address the risks associated with prostitution and sexual exploitation and offers a network of referral resources including shelter, health care, sexual health practices, and HIV/AIDS education.
The National Runaway Switchboard: | Back to Top
The National Runaway Switchboard (NRS) is a national communications system that assists youth who have run away, or are considering running away, and their families. With its database of more than 16,000 resources, NRS links youth and families across the country to shelters, counseling, medical assistance, and other vital services. Striving to be a one-stop resource for youth in crisis, NRS offers a range of services.
The NRS hotline operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, handling more than 100,000 calls annually. More than half of youth crisis callers are on the street. They have run away or been thrown out of the house—and they don’t know what to do. (NOTE: Many local RHY programs also have local hotlines through which youth can access services.)
More than 13,000 youth have been reunited with families through the Home Free Program since 1995. Offered in partnership with Greyhound Lines, Inc., the program reunites families by giving youth a free ride home. Home Free also takes some older youth to transitional living facilities.
NRS also works to prevent youth from running away. By helping youth and adults resolve problems constructively, staff and volunteers diffuse escalating tensions, promote dialogue, and reduce youths’ desire to run away.
Education and Outreach
From a comprehensive Runaway Prevention Curriculum to informative bookmarks, NRS provides a variety of free, online educational and promotional materials to schools, communities, and direct service providers.
The NRS website promotes the organization’s services, collaborations, and partnerships. It features demographic information on callers, nationally and by State, and links to other web resources. Young people can post their questions and concerns on the online bulletin board, while educators and service providers can visit the site to find statistics and educational and promotional materials.
When family reunification may not be appropriate | Back to Top
Family reunification may not a realistic option for runaway and homeless youth who left homes marked by violence and abuse or other severe family dysfunction. Determining what circumstances would allow for a youth who has been abused or mistreated to safely return home – including intensive family counseling, family mediation, or other treatment or support – may be one of the most difficult facing those working with runaway and homeless youth. These youth may be safer in transitional living programs or emancipation may need to be considered.
In fact, one longitudinal study of 249 homeless youth in Detroit, ages 13 to 17 years, found that family reunification was a natural outcome for only one‐third of the homeless youth.2 In addition to situations in which a child or youth might be re-abused, there are two other groups of youth for whom reunification may be neither realistic nor appropriate: youth who have “aged out” of the foster care system or discharged from the juvenile justice system, and those runaway and homeless youth who have been living on the streets from a long period of time. Experts agree that because of the ongoing instability and trauma they have experienced, these youth will require extensive educational, psychosocial, and vocational training.3
1. National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Fundamental Issues to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness.” Youth Homelessness Series, Brief No. 1, May 2006, p 2.
2. National Alliance to End Homelessness, at 8.
3. Center for Law and Social Policy. (2003). Leave No Youth Behind: Opportunities to Reach Disconnected Youth, p. 57.