National Runaway Prevention Month begins

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — The word "homelessness" can provide an array of images — from children out in the cold, to adults spending Thanksgiving in a shelter. In November, however, area residents will have the opportunity to become aware of the realities of homeless, and reach out to those in need.

"When we think about homelessness, we often picture images of the inner city, urban centers with areas of dense poverty. These images make it difficult for us to see this same problem in rural communities," Big Rapids Youth Attention Center (YAC) executive director Amy Eddinger said.

Eddinger continued to say rural communities are at a disadvantage when compared to urban areas because they don't have as many resources available to them. This sometimes can lead to limitations in the services rural communities can provide youth in these areas.

"Understanding rural homelessness requires a more flexible definition of homelessness," she said. "The aforementioned limitations result in an increased likelihood runaways, homeless and at-risk youth are more likely to be found living in abandoned cars, trailers or camping in the woods and under bridges. While others take up temporary shelter in substandard or condemned houses and many youth 'couch surf' from home to home. Smaller rural communities lack youth shelters because they don’t have the resources to support it."

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, 4.2 million youth between the ages of 13 to 25 will experience homelessness each year. It’s estimated 5,400 unaccompanied youth are identified as homeless students, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. In 2017, there were 3,165 youth who entered runaway and homeless youth services across the state.

"The Youth Attention Center is an agency in Mecosta, Osceola and Newaygo counties that deals directly with these challenges," Eddinger said. "In addition to connecting youth with community resources, our qualified and compassionate Caseworks offer a variety of services to youth, both individually and as a family."

Support services include, but are not limited to, 24-hour crisis intervention, case management, advocacy and support, independent living skills training, assistance with job readiness, individualized service plans and temporary placement, if needed. All services are confidential and are offered free of charge to youth between the ages of 12 and 21.

"Youth who run away or are homeless typically have a history of complex trauma, which increases their vulnerability. Youth leave home for a wide variety of reasons including trouble in school, family conflict, sexual orientation, abuse and neglect and the influence of others. Recent research shows these youth are at a significantly higher risk of becoming trafficking victims," Eddinger said.

Eddinger encourages area residents to reach out to at-risk youth by providing opportunities to gain knowledge, skills and abilities to allow them to be successful.

As well as providing knowledge, she notes YAC is in need of host homes for local youth, so runaway and homeless youth have a safe place to sleep at night.

For more information on YAC services, visit

November was designated National Runaway Awareness Month by the National Runaway Switchboard and the national Network for Youth.