There’s a green light shining in the window of New Morning’s Emergency Youth Shelter. It’s pretty hard to find a green CFL bulb, but the reason for it is important.
November was National Runaway Prevention Month and the green light symbol supported bringing awareness to the problem of teen runaways and educating the public about what solutions exist in their communities.
“I think people are more aware of runaways in big cities,” said New Morning Youth and Family Services Executive Director David Ashby. “Often, people don’t recognize that we have runaways here as well. Maybe, we just don’t want to know. There are an estimated 300-700 runaways in our community each year.
“Kids out there are struggling and they need help,” said Ashby. “It’s pretty scary for them to end up on the street. About 35 percent of all runaways, including the ones in our county, have been sexually abused and 75-80 percent have been physically abused as well.”
Runaway or throwaway kids typically leave their homes after altercations with parents or guardians; often they’ve been told they are no longer wanted.
New Morning’s Emergency Youth Shelter is a safe haven for runaways.
“Typically we have three kinds of kids at the shelter,” said Ashby. “Runaways, homeless and youth in crisis. Since 2008 when the economy dropped, there has been a real increase in homeless kids —sometimes it’s just them and sometimes it’s their whole family.”
Mary Tyler, shelter manager, describes the situation of a recent runaway who was brought to the shelter.
“He’s bipolar and he ran away and camped out with just his jacket for warmth for about 10 days. I’m trying to make sure we can get him his medication,” Tyler said.
The boy, as with most runaways, spent some time couch-hopping at the homes of friends.
“But, in terms of safety, couch-surfing is no better than camping out on the street,” said Ashby. “They are at risk for assault or injury, especially if where they are staying belongs to an unscrupulous person.”
“They might be drier or warmer,” said Tyler, ” but they aren’t safer.”
Not only has the number of kids staying at the shelter increased but the length of time they stay has increased as well.
“First, we make them feel safe and comfortable; then we try to figure out why they ran away,” said Tyler. “We contact the parents or guardians and try to figure out how to get them into the next safe place. There is always a therapist or other professional in contact with the family.”
Because the reasons for running away have become more complex in recent times, it takes longer to work things out to get them in the next safe place, said Ashby.
“We try to get the child and family engaged in counseling because, for the majority, the best place is home and that’s our ultimate goal — to get them back home,” said Ashby.
“We never charge kids for our shelter services,” said Ashby, “but we do accept donations.”
Last year the shelter served 219 youth, almost all of them from El Dorado County.
“Since we moved into this new building,” said Ashby, “the number of local kids we serve has increased and the kids from out of the area has decreased.”
While you might not be able to prevent a child from running away from home, there is a place in El Dorado County for them to go as long as New Morning keeps the light shining for them.
In a side note: The Shelter has been in the new building for two years and is doing well, but the Shelter van is on its last legs. If you know of a good replacement contact New Morning Youth & Family Services at 530-622-5551.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.