Furious with her mother, a 5-year-old girl packs up her Barbie doll carrying case full of socks and runs away from home, ending up a mile away at her mother’s best friend’s home. It’s a cute story with a happy ending, one that my family still enjoys telling 50 years later, describing one of my earliest life adventures.
But running away from home is not cute or funny, and rarely does it have a happy ending. Sadly here in Tucson, on an average night, it is estimated that 150 teens are missing or homeless. Who are these youth? They are our neighbors, the kid that bags our groceries, a classmate of your child, the youth that everyone talks about but no one talks to.
In Tucson, the face of homelessness is often the older white male standing on a corner with a cardboard sign asking for help. Many don’t think of the 1.7 million youth in America who experience homelessness each year. These hidden faces are left wandering the back alleys of downtown, sleeping on the couches of friends and facing the daily dangers of being trafficked.
They are young people who were kicked out of their homes because they are LGBTQ, ran away from abuse and family dysfunction, have been expelled from school or gave up and decided to go it alone after being rejected by their peers. The list of individual reasons seems endless, but regardless of the cause, we as a community need to wrap our heads and hearts around the fact that there are too many kids on the street.
Our Family Services fills the void around youth homelessness in our community. Our street outreach team is regularly out connecting with youth, sharing resources, working to earn the trust of these already jaded young people. Our Reunion House shelter is available to provide a safe environment for runaway youth, ages 12–17, and youth who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect.
Our therapist and case managers are available to hear their difficult stories and provide support and longer-term housing options for youth ages 18-24. With partner agencies we work to wrap these youth with support, services and safety to the tune of over 500 youth each year. On an average night, Our Family provides 85 young people a home, a safe place to rest, relax and restore. But the need is much greater.
During this National Runaway Prevention Month, let us each pledge to get engaged and stay engaged with the youth of our community. Consider partnering with Our Family to learn more about the runaway youth problem and how lending your time, money and advocacy can help.
If you are ready to roll up your sleeves, you can take action.
1. Educate yourself about the issue: Join our book club or sign up for our newsletter, check out our website — www.ourfamilyservices.org — for more info.
2. Get involved in advocacy: Like our Facebook page to learn about our advocacy strategy launching in early 2018.
3. Join the cause: Donate to one of the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit organizations, like Our Family Services.
4. Talk with others and invite them to get engaged.