An often-unseen population of people experiencing homelessness are teenagers. We know they are out there, often “couch surfing” moving from friend to friend depending on whichever family will help them out, or take them in for a few nights. Estimates put homeless teens in the Oshkosh area at 150 to 200 annually in recent years.
While working with members of the Winnebagoland Housing Coalition to identify gaps in services, it became obvious that a concerted effort would be needed to address our area youth who experience homelessness. The Foundation approached The Boys & Girls of Oshkosh (B&GC of Oshkosh) to explore bringing the Home Base program, already in place at Boys & Girls Club of the Fox Valley with amazing results, to Oshkosh and Winnebago County.
Home Base will serve youth (up to age 21) and families experiencing challenges related to running away, homelessness and housing insecurities. The services will be voluntary, confidential and free of charge.
Currently, the B&GC of Oshkosh works frequently with Father Carr’s homeless shelter as they serve families. There is steady and constant coordination between the programs working to end homelessness in the community.
By adding Home Base, the Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh looks to expand how they are helping the youth in the area with a 24-hour hotline support, case management, crisis intervention and counseling support as well as family mediation. In addition, the program will coordinate temporary shelter, and referrals to additional agencies and community partners, and also provide care packages.
According to the CEO of the B&GC of Oshkosh, Tracy Ogden, the club has been looking at adding Home Base for the last two years. She notes they would be further along in the process if it hadn’t been for the COVID-19 Pandemic. Bringing the program to Oshkosh will require three additional full-time staff positions. She indicates that they will work closely with the Boys & Girls Club of the Fox Valley to scale the program and she will need to secure funding for it. She adds, “Home Base is really about getting to the root of a problem a child is having. We want to know, is there abuse, neglect or something else going on?”
The addition of the program comes at the same time the club is looking to expand its physical footprint realigning their space to better suit and serve the needs of the kids they see on a daily basis. To say the club is plugged in to kids, what they need, and their daily activities is an understatement. They are running after school programming in 14 local schools in addition to the services they offer at their primary location near downtown Oshkosh. Omro has also requested assistance with after school programming.
In terms of the Home Base program, Ogden notes, “Our goal will always be to get the child back home, and in a stable environment if possible”. But she also concedes that each scenario is unique, and their staff takes each child’s situation and works to provide help and solutions on a case-by-case basis. “We get to know each child, and their unique family dynamic and needs. No one solution works with every child. They are dealing with a wide array of issues including child trafficking, drugs, alcohol and abuse in the home.”
When you support the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, you support programs and services like Home Base, and the children it serves.