Program Spotlight: Runaway & Homeless Youth Services (VIDEO)

Looking Glass got its start back in 1970 in a house off River Road helping runaway and homeless youth (RHY) with a safe place to stay and services to help them with basic needs. Almost 50 years later, RHY is still at the core of what Looking Glass Community Services provides in efforts to help Lane County youth stabilize their lives and create a solid foundation from which to build a more successful and healthy life.

At the heart of Looking Glass' RHY efforts lies the Outreach Team. This is a group of front line workers who proactively engage at-risk youth on a daily basis as they attempt to interact, build trust and ultimately assist the youth in getting off the streets.

As Looking Glass' Marketing & Development Director, I spend most of my days interacting with donors and supporters as well as various media contacts, working to find ways to tell our stories and increase our crucial unrestricted funding. Recently, I had the opportunity to join the Outreach Team on one of their daily outings and see firsthand how they work to spread the word of our services directly to youth who need them most. For me, it was a profound experience and I don't think I will look at downtown Eugene the same way.

"Where did you sleep last night?" one of the outreach team members would ask when we  engaged youths on our route around downtown Eugene. One of the challenges this team faces is the group mentality that a lot of the street youth cling to. Breaking individual youths off from their groups to be able to talk with them directly and discretely often leads to more successful interactions. Since our outreach team is so consistent and visible in the downtown area, our staff is able to build trust and engage with the youth in ways that increase success rates. The most common answers were vague ones like, "my friend's place" or "my sister's apartment," but some did say "the park" or "the street" and our staff takes notes and tracks this data over time while working hard to make sure the youth know about the resources available to them.

What struck me most about watching our Outreach Team workers, both of whom navigated the various groups of street youth with a grace and poise that I found most impressive, was how many of these youth they already knew on a first name basis. A large contingent of the youth our team interacts with downtown are there on a daily basis. For many, living on the streets has become normal to them and part of our task is to ensure they know where they can go to get basic needs without being pushy or threatening. Once we can get them into our New Roads drop in center, we have much better odds of helping them to pursue a healthier and safer environment.

Due to severe trauma histories and diminished trust in people, it can be incredibly difficult to convince youth that living on the streets is not sustainable. For some youth that realization can come fairly quickly and for others it may take longer, but Looking Glass will always strive to be available to help these youth during their stages of contemplation and when they’re ultimately ready to exit the streets.

If you have interest in learning more about our Runaway & Homeless Youth services please contact Kirstin London, Runaway and Homeless Youth Services Director at kirstin.london@lookingglass.us.

If you have interest in supporting Looking Glass and our fundraising efforts, please contact me at tyler.mack@lookingglass.us.

Looking Glass Crisis line: (541) 689-3111

- Tyler Mack, Marketing & Development Director

 Street Outreach Worker, Rose Reyes (left), and Marketing & Development Director, Tyler Mack (right), on a recent outing providing water, snacks, socks and other resources to street youth in Eugene.

Street Outreach Worker, Rose Reyes (left), and Marketing & Development Director, Tyler Mack (right), on a recent outing providing water, snacks, socks and other resources to street youth in Eugene.