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Runaway and Homeless Youth

November is Runaway and Homeless Youth Awareness month. This is a great time to learn about runaway and homeless youth in our community, but at Volunteers of America, Dakotas, we work with this population year-round.

Volunteers of America, Dakotas offers multiple programs that serve young people experiencing homelessness in the Sioux Falls area. Our Safe Place, Street Outreach Team, Family Crisis Intervention Program, and Axis180 all serve as avenues in helping at-risk and displaced youth through identification, family intervention, and supportive housing. Here is how a young person might find their way to Volunteers of America, Dakotas.

Safe Place - Volunteers of America, Dakotas is the only organization in South Dakota that participates in the National Safe Place program. Safe Place is a network of locations such as schools, fire stations, libraries, grocery and convenience stores, public transit and other appropriate public buildings. Multiple city-wide locations ensure that youth, ages 10-17, do not have to venture far to find assistance.

Street Outreach - Street Outreach is a ‘feet-on-the-ground’ team who meet young people, ages 16-21, where they are – physically and emotionally. Volunteers of America, Dakotas staff serve as a link to youth and the services they need to leave the street. The Street Outreach team reaches out to young adults wherever they may be congregating. Youth involved with Street Outreach receive encouragement, case management services, and various other resources. The Street Outreach team alleviates the immediate needs of street youth, reunites youth with families or determines future course of action, provides resources and hygiene kits, and, above all, builds relationships.

Both Safe Place and Street Outreach serve as referral sources and navigation tools. When a young person is identified as runaway or at-risk, they may be referred to the Family Crisis Intervention Program (FCIP). FCIP is often the next step in the continuum of homeless youth services. This program is a 24 hour, 365 days a year immediate intervention program for youth, ages 10-17, and families who are in crisis. Its focus is to provide crisis mediation, resolve family conflict, prevent runaways, and foster community connections.

With all these efforts engaged, there are still dozens of young people between the ages of 16-21 who are homeless and unable to reconnect with family. When those individuals have nowhere to turn and no positive guidance in their lives, they may be a good candidate for enrollment in our Axis180 program. Axis180 provides young adults the opportunity to transition out of unsafe environments into safe, supervised housing while they learn skills necessary to succeed on their own. The program assists participants in education completion, employment training and placement, financial management skills, daily living skills, and interpersonal skills. LaRae Oberloh, Transition Specialist with Volunteers of America, Dakotas, sheds some light on how her team identifies at-risk youth, and how they may find their way into the Axis180 program.

“We identify youth in a variety of ways,” Oberloh says, “school referrals, placement agencies, and public places. Our Street Outreach team distributes supplies, which meet their needs, but also start conversations”.

She adds that identifying youth is just a first step in a continuum of services. After an at-risk youth is identified, Oberloh and her team meet with them to help establish their need and help them with the application process for Axis180. From there, they are able to support them in securing housing, pursuing employment, and completing education, as well as offer regular case management and referrals to other community resources. What many individuals appreciate most, though, is the opportunity to build consistent relationships. This including regular check-ins and learning what a positive relationship looks like.

“My greatest goal is that they don’t feel as alone as the first time they made the call, that they’re feeling connected with someone, with us. Overall, I hope they’re able to find success and move forward with their lives. We can all do that if we have somebody behind us – pushing us and cheering us on.”

If you have questions on any of the services mentioned above, visit www.voa-dakotas.org.

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