The year-round efforts of Oswego County Opportunities (OCO) to prevent youth runaways and homelessness provide young people in need with a wide range of resources 24/7.
It is estimated that every year in the U.S., 4.2 million youths aged 13 to 25 experience some form of homelessness, according to National Runaway Safeline (NRS). Fifty-two percent of youth that experienced homelessness in 2021 reported feeling unsafe, and 41% of youth who contacted NRS were in crisis at the time of contact. New York State had one of the highest numbers of crisis contact calls in 2020.
Adolescents run away from home for numerous reasons, including abuse, neglect, family conflict, financial struggles at home and peer and social issues. While younger people may sometimes be sleeping on the streets, they are often couch-surfing – moving around from place to place at the homes of friends or relatives due to the lack of a long-term housing option.
Local resources are available for runaway youth year-round through OCO. The agency’s Homeless Services program offers a wide variety of support services to those experiencing homelessness, such as providing food, shelter, case management and much more.
“Our main goal is to ensure young people have safe and stable housing,” said OCO Homeless Services Manager Phillip Lamb. “We put our best efforts forward to mitigate conflict and reunite youth with their families if that is a viable option. We want youth to have a positive experience in our programs, and we provide them with the tools and resources needed to help them achieve their goals and develop into independent, productive members of society.”
The OCO Youth Emergency Services (YES!) Shelter is a temporary shelter that welcomes runaway and homeless youth under the age of 18 for up to 21 days. During their time at the shelter, residents participate in daily activities, receive case management services from OCO staff and work toward various goals, including those related to housing, employment, education and personal goals. Staff also work with youth to establish safe permanent housing, whether by helping to mediate conflict and reunite them with their family or finding another permanent housing solution.
OCO also has advocates in the Oswego and Fulton school districts that are ready to help when it is believed a student may be at risk of homelessness or running away. The advocates can guide students to resolve issues before runaway or homeless services are needed, or they can provide case management to students who are in need of resources.
In addition to the shelter and school advocates, OCO offers the PATH program for youth that are homeless, are at risk of being homeless or live in a space that does not meet criteria for human habitation. Program participants must be between ages 16 and 21 and can stay in the program for up to 18 months.
While in the program, youth are placed in an apartment, likely with a roommate, and rent and utility costs are covered by OCO. Participants are required to have a daily activity such as school, a job or volunteering, and must regularly meet with staff to work on goals and build independent living skills. Staff will teach participants a wide variety of skills, including employment skills, career and planning, money management, educational planning, health and nutrition, housing maintenance, communication skills, relationship skills and many others. OCO also helps youth to meet their goals, assisting them in obtaining safe and stable housing, health insurance, employment, a driver’s license or permit, and any other goal the youth may have.
OCO Homeless Services offers support and resources to all people in need. To learn about other homeless services programs OCO offers, visit https://www.oco.org/ or call the OCO Homeless Services Hotline at 1-877-342-7618 weekdays and 211 after hours.
For more information about the PATH program or YES! Shelter, visit https://www.oco.org/ or call 315-402-2789.