Green lights. Green socks. Green ribbons.

No, this not a list of my favorite things, or my favorite color. These are the different ways that I am going to participate in the Green Light Project to bring attention to National Runaway Prevention Month.

Every November, the National Runaway Switchboard partners with the National Network for Youth to create National Runaway Prevention Month. This initially started as a week of awareness in November 2002 as a way that various leaders on the issue could come together and hold numerous conferences and discussions on the issues that runaway youth encounter[i]. Over the years, this time expanded into an entire month as a way raise awareness about the issues that runaway youth face, as well as educate others as to how we can prevent youth from running away.

Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in a year.[ii] Even though housing is the number one need among runaway youth, there are several essential needs that are not met when a youth is homeless. Health and wellness are jeopardized, education falls into the background, and risky behavior is often increased when a youth becomes homeless. There is also a highly increased risk of being subject to physical and sexual ill-treatment once youth become homeless. As a way to manage this issue, there are several homeless facilities strictly for youth. However, the city of Chicago only has 266 beds for homeless youth, even though there are 10,995 unaccompanied youth in our city.[iii] More and more youth are being turned away from these shelters as a result.

Throughout the month of November, the National Runaway Switchboard and the National Network for Youth encourages everyone to get involved with raising awareness about runaway youth. One way to learn about this issue is by volunteering at various Chicago Cares’ programs that frequently work with this population.

On bi-weekly Wednesday nights, our volunteers cook dinner at La Casa Norte. La Casa Norte is social service agency that provides comprehensive services to members of the Humboldt Park community. The largest facility at La Casa Norte is the Solid Ground Supportive Housing Program. This facility is Chicago’s first bilingual, male-intentional supportive housing program for homeless youth ages 16-21.[iv] While many of the residents are at work, in class, or working on their homework, our volunteers cook a healthy meal for the male residents that they can enjoy when they come home for the night.

Chicago Cares also works with Open Door Shelter in West Town. Part of The Night Ministry, Open Door Shelter is a youth housing facility that helps homeless youth by providing housing and supportive services for youth ages 14-20, and their children. Open Door Shelter has a 120-Day Interim Program, as well as a Transitional Living Program, which is an 8-bed facility. Every Monday night, Chicago Cares runs alternating volunteer opportunities with the 16 participants in the interim housing program. During the cooking project, volunteers and the youth residents cook dinner that they then eat all together. On the alternating Monday evening, the residents work with our volunteers on a job coaching program. During the project, residents work on different job readiness skills, such as resume building, mock interviews, and other techniques to help them find employment while residing at the shelter. These programs help the residents develop different life skills that will be needed when they leave Open Door Shelter.

Whether you decide to volunteer at our programs, or wear a green lapel, there are numerous ways that you can share this information and go green during this upcoming National Runaway Prevention Month.