An outreach program to help homeless teens will have a new partner this year and a stronger focus on human trafficking.
CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services secured a three-year government grant to conduct its Street Outreach Program, finding runaway or homeless teens and connecting them to services. It will partner with Shelters of Saratoga, which has a mobile outreach unit for its adult shelter and now also will reach out to teens and young people.
The Street Outreach Program has been operated on and off for more than 10 years when grant funding is available. Most recently, CAPTAIN had a grant between 2008 and 2011 but didn’t have the program this year.
The grant is $115,000 a year for three years, and Shelters of Saratoga gets $25,000 of that money annually, said Andy Gilpin, CAPTAIN’s director of program services. It was awarded Oct. 1, and the program will be up and running next week, he said.
This time, there’s a stronger focus on human trafficking, especially in the sex trade, and CAPTAIN will be looking to help young people who may have been manipulated into becoming prostitutes.
“It’s a growing issue,” Gilpin said. “It’s an issue that’s getting a lot of spotlight nationally and internationally.”
CAPTAIN will also work with the Capital Region’s Human Trafficking Task Force.
Gilpin said domestic trafficking of minors does happen in the Capital Region, though getting accurate numbers of how many cases occur is still tough because of a lack of awareness and reporting.
“The numbers will soon start to match as we become more and more aware,” he said.
Authorities do have data showing that within 48 hours of running away from home, 85 percent of teens are approached by someone in the sex trade, he said. Not all who are approached go with the trafficker, but people who deal in human trafficking are “very manipulative,” Gilpin said.
“They usually start off as very caring,” he said, but then, the abuse starts.
CAPTAIN also runs a 30-day youth shelter for homeless teens between 13 and 17 years old and continues to do so regardless of grant funding for the outreach program. But for the shelter, the organization waits for calls from school counselors, parents or teens who need help.
The outreach coordinators will actively seek out homeless teens, foster their trust and offer to help them find shelter housing or other services.
“It’s a more proactive program than a reactive program,” Gilpin said.
The outreach program also targets a slightly older demographic — ages 16 to 21 — who may not be in school or get social services, so they live outside the radar of people who could help them.
These young people live on the street or crash with friends, and some are involved in drugs, alcohol or prostitution, Gilpin said.
“It’s really those vulnerable kids and youths that we’re looking for,” he said.
The outreach workers will try to build a rapport with the youngsters, see what their issues are and make referrals to various social services if the teens want to go.
“The big thing is reaching them and their willingness to accept services,” Gilpin said. “We’re going to try to engage them and get them to see that the lifestyle is destructive to them.”
Shelters of Saratoga will do outreach in Saratoga Springs and a little bit outside the city, while CAPTAIN will cover the rest of Saratoga County, as well as spots in Fulton, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties. Those three counties do not have youth shelters within their county borders.
The federally funded grant comes from the Department of Health and Human Services through the Administration of Children and Families.
CAPTAIN has hired a full-time coordinator for the program and is looking to hire two part-time outreach workers. One other person already on staff will assist the program, as well.
Gilpin said he’d like to use volunteers also, especially young ones such as high-schoolers who take part in a career exploration program that gives them internships.