National Runaway Prevention Month Empowers Communities to Shine a Light on Youth Experiencing Housing Instability
By Kimberly A. Waller, Associate Commissioner, Family and Youth Services Bureau
November is National Runaway Prevention Month (NRPM), an important time to renew our commitment to reducing the risk of youth experiencing homelessness or contemplating running away. Current national data tells us that we have our work cut out for us, with 4.2 million youth and young adults experiencing homelessness in the United States each year. The scale and impact of the problem make it all the more essential to focus on prevention, trying to avoid having youth encounter these challenges. NRPM is led by the National Runaway Safeline (NRS), with support from the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), and implemented in collaboration with local governments, community youth service providers, and individuals throughout the United States who work every day to support these vulnerable youth.
Homelessness and the risk of homelessness among our youth is vast, yet for communities across the country it remains mostly hidden in the shadows. People do not know what youth homelessness looks like, or the challenges that youth, especially youth from underserved populations, face every day. NRPM is an opportunity for us to shine a light on this issue and bring attention to how, working collaboratively and cooperatively, we can minimize barriers and create safe spaces for youth. It offers a platform to discuss youth homelessness and create strategies to prevent and end running away incidents and youth homelessness.
Often young people who experience housing instability and homelessness and those who contemplate running away face challenges beyond stable housing or a place to sleep. These challenges may include difficulty accessing health care and behavioral health supports, education, and job opportunities, and more importantly supportive networks to help youth thrive in their own communities. They may also experience anxiety, loneliness, and depression, seriously impacting their mental health. Additionally, the prevalence of homelessness among youth of color and those identifying as LGBTQIA2S+ is twice that of their white, non-LGBTQIA2S+ peers .These youth need our support.
With this understanding, FYSB pursues a holistic approach to advancing equity and diversity within FYSB and across our funded programs to expand opportunities for the population served by FYSB, as well as for those working to support these programs. Our programs intentionally focus on communities that are historically marginalized, underserved, and disproportionately impacted by homelessness and housing instability. FYSB’s Runaway and Homeless Youth programs develop materials and services in collaboration with those we support, youth with lived experience and their families, to enhance the opportunity of creating an authentic connection with at-risk youth and reduce the prevalence of homelessness among our youth.
Let’s talk about how you can support NRPM this November. Visit the NRPM website to get the NRPM 2022 Partner Toolkit and become a partner today. The toolkit recommends strategies for building creative, cost-effective, and lasting partnerships that can raise awareness and provide prevention services to vulnerable and underserved youth in your community. Download the NRPM National Events Flyer for an at-a-glance snapshot of the many ways that organizations and individuals can participate in NRPM. These include a lunch and learn series, live Twitter chat, Education Week, Wear Green Day, Light the Night community events, and more. Be sure to review the social media content and filters, informational videos, and infographics NRS has created to support your NRPM campaign. Also, fill out the NRPM commitment card, available in English and Spanish, and display it on your social media platforms to let everyone know that you support NRPM!
NRS has multiple ways that youth in crisis can easily connect with professional counselors and youth with lived experience for real-time help and assistance. Youth can call the hotline (1-800-RUNAWAY), connect on TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook @1800runaway, and visit NRS’s website (www.1800runaway.org) to sign up for an online chat or text option. NRS can also help youth get connected to a FYSB-supported program near them that offers a safe place for youth in crisis, including housing support, free meals, employment assistance, and more, while respecting their culture and gender identity.
There are also special opportunities for youth to lead or join activities to help improve the lives of their peers facing homelessness. By becoming an NRPM Youth Ambassador, young people can use their creativity to plan fun events, spread the word on social media, and volunteer with nonprofits in their area to educate others about youth experiencing homelessness or those contemplating running away. If you are a young person, consider downloading the NRPM Youth Ambassador Toolkit and learn how you can become a campaign ambassador.
Please join FYSB throughout November to shine a light on the strength of partnerships and collaborations in empowering communities to prevent youth from experiencing homelessness in the future and support those currently experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Let’s keep in mind that homelessness is a situation—not an identity—and that youth can leave this situation when support is available. Together, we can provide that support and make a big difference in the lives of so many young people at risk of experiencing homelessness or contemplating running away.
1. University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall Voices of Youth Count national study indicates that nearly 4.2 million young people experienced homelessness in the United States in a single year.
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