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March 17, 2011

Local Agencies Partner to Help Hundreds of Homeless Youth

OSWEGO - Although we may not recognize their faces when we see them, hundreds of young people were considered homeless or runaways over the past year in Oswego County. Runaway and homeless youth specialists helped 421 kids who had no place to stay. Most of the youth were between the ages of 17 and 19; four of these children were under age 10.

The county provides services to help bring kids back to their families, or if not practical, find another living arrangement, thanks to a partnership between the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau and Oswego County Opportunities (OCO).

"Much as we don't like to think about it, there are youth in crisis in our county who are homeless or runaways, often through circumstances beyond their control," said County Legislator John Proud, District 7, chairman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee. "The Youth Bureau and Oswego County Opportunities are providing services around the clock to assist these young people, provide emergency shelter, and help them to learn independent living skills in a safe environment."

Kathleen Fenlon, director of the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, said the youth bureau has been able to leverage funding from New York State and contracts with OCO to provide direct services.

"The Youth Bureau receives state aid to provide services to runaway and homeless youth," said Fenlon. "One program targets young people ages 18 to 20 who have no home to live in or return to. OCO provides supervised apartments, and works with the youth to finish school and go on to college, enter the military, or obtain stable employment. They learn life skills such as how to buy groceries and balance a checkbook, so they can remain in school and live on their own."

Another program serves kids who have no permanent place to stay and "couch surf," spending a few nights at friends' or relatives' homes. Roughly half of these youths are able to reconcile with their families and return to their homes, while others find stable living arrangements in a friend or relative's home.

"A lot of these young people are victims of child abuse and neglect, and come from homes that have substance and alcohol abuse issues," said Fenlon. "Oswego County Opportunities works closely with these kids to make sure they stay in school and get the health care and other services they need."

The youth bureau was recently able to access $4,545 additional funding from New York State, from funding that was not used by another county. The Oswego County Legislature directed that the funds be used to support services for homeless and runaway youth.

All told, said Fenlon, Oswego County currently receives $40,000 in state aid funding which is contracted out to OCO for runaway and homeless youth programs. "OCO uses this funding to leverage an additional $300,000 in federal funding to serve this needy population," she added.

The Legislature's Health and Human Services oversees the activities of the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau. In addition to Legislator Proud, committee members include vice chairman Jacob Mulcahey, District 15; Barbara Brown, District 8; James Karasek, District 22; Margaret Kastler, District 1; Ronald Sakonyi, District 5; and Terry Wilbur, District 21.

For more information on youth bureau services, call 349-3451. To reach the 24-hour runaway and homeless youth hotline, call 342-7618 or 1-877-342-7618.

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