Park Place Outreach

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From Park Place Outreach’s Board President: 6 ways to help keep kids off the streets

By
Todd Cellini
Special to Savannah Morning News

Numbers tell the story. Each year, between 1.6 million and 2.8 million kids across the United States run away from home. If all of those runaways lived in one city, it would be the fifth-largest city in the U.S. — after New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

In Chatham County, young women under the age of 18 make up 10 percent of the county’s homeless population; young men under 18 add another 8 percent. Overall, the county’s adult homeless population is 54 percent male and 28 percent female.

Getting an exact count of the number of homeless kids is difficult because they often do not look like the stereotype of an adult homeless person, and they frequently try to hide their situation.

Still, a story of hope can be found beneath these numbers.

Since opening its doors in 1984, Park Place Outreach – Youth Emergency Shelter, a temporary shelter and outreach service that serves youth from Savannah and the surrounding area, has helped more than 6,200 young people find stability.

During November, organizations across the nation, including Park Place Outreach, joined forces to raise awareness about the issues facing runaways through National Runaway Prevention Month. The annual awareness campaign, co-sponsored by the National Runaway Switchboard and the National Network for Youth, tries to help parents and others with strategies designed to keep kids from running away.

“It’s vitally important that parents and caregivers take proactive steps to ensure that their children don’t run away from home,” says Linda Hilts, executive director of Park Place Outreach. “Young people on the street are often perceived as ‘bad kids’ if or when they engage in risky behaviors. The reality is that many of these young people do not engage in these behaviors until they are already on the streets and only do so for survival or to cope.

“The best way to help these kids is to help them stay off of the streets in the first place.”

Hilts offers the following tips, provided by the National Runaway Switchboard, a national 24-hour crisis hotline aimed at keeping runaway, homeless and at-risk youth safe and off the streets, as a good starting point:

Pay attention: Listen when your children are talking with you. They need to know that you value their opinions, their emotions and their company.

Give respect: Acknowledge and support your child’s struggle to grow to maturity. Within the dysfunctional family environments cited by runaway and homeless youth, abuse is often a factor. Verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse before the age of 18 are all correlated with higher runaway rates.

Understand your child: Try to sympathize with what your kids are going through. Look at life, at least occasionally, from their point of view. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth run more often than heterosexual youth. For LGBTQ youth, some parents can’t accept their child’s sexual orientation and throw them out of the house. Others remain in the home but face difficulties because of the lack of acceptance within their families, which may lead them to run.

Discuss feelings: Talk about what it feels like to be a parent. Share with your child the things you need from him. Encourage him to talk about his feelings, too. When parents share their feelings, children know it’s safe to share their own.

Create responsibility: Give your child choices, not orders. Help her or him to understand the consequences of their actions. When punishments need to be administered, try asking what the child thinks would be appropriate.

Don’t always give the answers: You want your children to be able to find their own answers or solutions to problems. You can help by not giving them the answers all the time. Instead, discuss options. Play “what if” to help them develop problem-solving skills. But again, respect their decisions.

Runaways and homeless kids are not limited to urban environments. They’re in every community: urban, suburban and rural. The majority of young people on the street are not there because they want to be. They are there because they believe they have nowhere to go.

“There are some wonderful resources for youth who are contemplating running away and for those who are already on the streets,” says Hilts. “At Park Place Outreach, we provide our residents with three meals a day, ensure that they are attending school, provide individual and group counseling services, and help them begin the process of repairing their situations at home.”

The shelter also partners with other organizations in Savannah. Partners include: Union Mission, J.C. Lewis Health Center, Savannah Area Behavior Health Collaborative, Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless, Safe Shelter, Greenbriar Children’s Center, RAPE Crisis, City of Savannah, Chatham County play roulette online in canada Juvenile Court, Department of Human Resources, Department of Juvenile Justice, and Memorial Health System. Park Place Outreach has room for 12 kids, with four beds reserved to guarantee that no child in need of emergency shelter is turned away. The runaway and homeless youth crisis is a solvable problem. We just have to learn how to work together to stop it.

Park Place Outreach

Where: 514 E. Henry St.

Phone: 912-234-4048

Online: https://www.parkplaceyes.org or join the group on Facebook (ParkPlace) and Twitter @parkplaceyes.

Todd Cellini is the president of South University – Savannah, and also serves as the board president for Park Place Outreach. He can be reached at tcellini@southuniversity.edu.