Creative Awareness Campaign Draws Attention to Youth Homelessness

A person on the street looks at a somebodyThis past April, the streets of downtown Cleveland became filled with homeless youth. Dressed in neon hoodies, slumped against walls and statues, the figures cut through the city’s normal hustle and bustle, attracting concerned passersby and the media.

But these were no normal street teens. Indeed, they weren’t even real people. Instead, the brightly colored figures were the invention of Cleveland-area Family & Youth Services Bureau grantee Bellefaire JCB, who enlisted a marketing company, Doner, to fill the city with mannequins. They christened the campaign “Take a Closer Look,” and the residents of Cleveland heeded the call.

“[We've] turned up the volume on discussions of homeless and missing youth,” says Stephanie Senter, Bellefaire's director of residential treatment. The campaign encompassed multimedia as well as the striking mannequins. Next to each one, a large information card shared statistics about youth homelessness and encouraged Clevelanders to post their impressions on social media and visit the website A YouTube video about the campaign attracted even more eyes.

The mannequins’ hoodies were decorated with slogans spelled out in collegiate font :

  • I’m 12 and Hungry
  • I’m Missing and My Parents Don’t Care
  • My Mom’s Boyfriend Hurts Me
  • Survival Sex is How I Find a Place to Stay
  • I’m Too Afraid to Go Home
  • My Dad Kicked Me Out Because I’m Gay

The result was some much-needed attention for the causes and realities of youth homelessness, an issue often defined by its “invisibility.”

“We’re always looking for ways to educate the community and reach out to teens to let them know that there are alternatives to living on the street,” Senter says. Bellefaire JCB  considered the campaign a success, judged by its reach on social media and coverage on local and national news channels.

Now they turn their focus on expanding it. Bellefaire has brought mannequins to national conferences such as the recent Runaway and Homeless Youth grantees conference in Phoenix, AZ. And they are consulting with other youth-serving groups around the country who want to replicate their success.

But Bellefaire’s greatest success may be finding a way to attract attention to a population that is typically unseen.

Learn more about FYSB's Runaway and Homeless Youth Program or find a grantee in your area

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