By William Bentley, Associate Commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau
When 15-year-old Jessie ran away from home after a big fight with her mom, she didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, the Indianapolis high-schooler called the National Runaway Safeline (NRS), a 24/7 crisis hotline funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau to keep runaway, homeless and at-risk youth safe and off the streets. The volunteer who took the call facilitated a conversation between Jessie and her mom to talk through their feelings about the fight. Then, she helped Jessie book a free Greyhound ticket back to Indianapolis.
Each November, the Safeline spearheads National Runaway Prevention Month to raise awareness about issues faced by runaway and homeless youth like Jessie. The organization also joins with dozens of national and community partners to educate the public about ways to keep young people from leaving home. Last year’s events ranged from a series of awareness and prevention walks in southeast Ohio to lighting up the marquee outside Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
The need for increased awareness is great. A study commissioned by the Department of Justice found that more than 1.6 million youth ran away or were kicked out of their homes in 1999. An updated study of those numbers is underway, but we can be assured that the number of young people living on their own is still far too high.
The 2013 National Runaway Prevention Month offers many opportunities to get the word out about runaway youth, including a Social Media Day of Action and the Green Light Project to distribute green light bulbs as a symbol of youth homelessness. This year, the Safeline will also share tips submitted by parents and teens about the best ways to keep families strong and intact. Family and youth workers can also find resources through the National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth, a FYSB resource dedicated to sharing promising practices, emerging research and the latest federal and private funding opportunities.
As the new Associate Commissioner for the Family and Youth Services Bureau, I am proud of the work our nonprofit grantee partners do each day to serve young people experiencing or at-risk for homelessness. FYSB-funded Basic Centers are the backbone of a national network of nonprofit organizations committed to improving the life condition of youth at risk of homelessness, especially runaway youth.
This November, let’s raise this important issue even higher in the public eye, and recommit ourselves to securing the health and well-being of America’s youth.
William H. Bentley is Associate Commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), where he oversees programs that work to prevent teen pregnancy, youth homelessness and family violence. Bentley has more than four decades’ experience advocating for youth and families and promoting volunteerism and public service.