By Rebecca Jones-Gaston, MSW, ACF Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families
Each November, the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) raises awareness about the importance of preventing and ending youth homelessness. This month, we highlight two major observances that help bring awareness and “shine a light” on the issues faced by youth who have run away from home, are asked to leave their homes, or otherwise experience homelessness, and the progress we have made toward preventing and ending this crisis: National Runaway Prevention Month and National Homeless Children and Youth Awareness Month.
- National Runaway Prevention Month (NRPM), which began as a week-long observance in November 2002, is now an annual campaign spearheaded by the National Runaway Safeline (NRS), aimed at empowering individuals, organizations, and communities to collaborate and take action to help prevent youth homelessness and support youth who are contemplating or have run away from home. The NRS has planned a variety of exciting opportunities to “shine a light” on the importance of supporting youth and young adults in crisis, and to raise awareness about the resources available across the Nation to support them.
- Beginning in 2007, organizations across the country have also recognized November as National Homeless Children and Youth Awareness Month, to raise awareness of children and families experiencing homelessness and to educate the public on ways to help end youth homelessness across all communities.
Youth and family serving organizations across the Country work tirelessly to provide essential services and supports to youth and young adults experiencing and at risk of experiencing homelessness and housing instability. And while progress has been made, we know there is more work to do. National reports indicate that nearly 4.2 million young people experienced homelessness in the United States in a single year. Youth contemplate leaving home for a broad number of reasons. Some young people run away to escape neglect, violence, or the risk of human trafficking. Others may choose to leave adverse placements with the hope of one day reuniting with their families. Youth leaving home is a major pathway for them experiencing homelessness, but many other pathways exist, including experiences with the immigration and juvenile justice systems, family conflict due to sexual orientation, gender identity, or unplanned pregnancies, family financial stress, and systemic racial discrimination.
This November, FYSB proudly stands in partnership with organizations, communities, youth and young adults and their families, and other partners as we recognize NRPM and National Homeless Children and Youth Awareness Month.
National Runaway Prevention Month
I encourage you and your organization to become an Official NRPM Partner to receive useful resources to help “shine a light” and spread the word about preventing and ending youth homelessness. As a partner, you can participate in five NRPM partner calls conducted by NRS that provide guidance on collaborating on NRPM activities within your network and informing community partners on how they can support NRPM. NRS also wants to ensure youth who have experience being unhoused, left home at a young age, or simply want to champion change in their community are included in NRPM community activities. Invite the amazing young people in your life to register as a Youth Ambassador to let their light shine and to expand the reach of this campaign.
Be sure to keep an eye out for NRPM-sponsored community and national events conducted throughout the month, including “Wear Green Day” on November 16th, “Light the Night” events on November 17th, and, what I’m looking forward to the most, live chats on Instagram and Threads on November 21st. You can promote these activities using the free NRPM social media toolkit with suggested content and images for your NRPM social media campaign. Use the hashtag #NRPM2023 to be part of the larger discussion, reach a wider audience, and make your content accessible across multiple platforms.
I urge you to share these activities with a new or nontraditional partner and collaborate with your Local Education Agencies Liaisons and human services providers for an increased, collaborative impact. For evidence-informed work on this type of collaboration, check out the Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center resource, Promoting School and Community Partnerships, available in their portal. Join me in promoting NRPM and uplifting youth contemplating running away or experiencing homelessness. The time to act is now!
The Family and Youth Services Bureau Supports Organizations that Work to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness
Next year, FYSB will recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which funds the National Communication System (NCS), operated by NRS, and other RHY Programs. In 2022, over 12,500 young people in crisis reached out to NRS, many of whom were between the ages of 15 and 17. These young people find themselves contemplating running away for multiple reasons, including family dynamics (77% of contacts), emotional abuse (28% of contacts), physical abuse (17%), mental health concerns (25%), and LGBTQIA2S+ issues (6%), just to name a few. NRS listens to these young people in need, and if desired, connects them to appropriate, local resources, often including RHY providers.
In addition to the services provided by NRS, FYSB supports hundreds of RHY organizations across the U.S. to provide unique, youth-driven services to ensure young people experiencing homelessness can access safe and stable housing, education and employment, permanent connections, and social and emotional wellbeing. This year, FYSB awarded 673 RHY grants, including 301 Basic Center Programs, 135 Street Outreach Programs, 162 Transitional Living Programs, and 64 Maternity Group Home Programs. While it is essential that the RHY Program continues to provide resources and solutions for young people who are already experiencing homelessness, I have also made prevention efforts a top priority for the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families. This year, FYSB announced a new initiative, the Runaway and Homeless Youth – Prevention Demonstration Program (RHY-PDP). Under this initiative, 11 cooperative agreements were awarded to community-based organizations, focusing on innovative youth homelessness prevention interventions across the country.