Posted on Thursday, Feb 17, 2022 by Monika Kelly, Marya Morgan

(Air1 Closer Look) – Teenagers are especially vulnerable to the evils of modern slavery. “Human trafficking is a legitimate concern for folks out the street,” says Jeff Stern, CEO of the National Runaway Safeline. More than 4-million teenagers are homeless every year, though not always by choice. “Whether it’s that they don’t feel safe in their own home, or whether they’ve been kicked out, this is not something young people generally want.” Whatever drove them to the streets, hunger inevitably awaits. Traffickers spot runaways as easy prey and sometimes offer food to bait the trap.

1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929) was established in 1971 to give desperate teens advice, support and alternatives to such dark and dangerous situations. Just last year, the Safeline connected with more than 125,000 young people on their toll-free hotline and through their interactive website. The average Safeline caller is barely 17. It does not take them long to get scared.  Most runaways call within three days of leaving home.

“When a young person reaches us, they will speak to a live person,” assures Stern, “we want to help young people find solutions.” 

NRS counselors can refer kids to any of 6,500 resources in dozens of cities across the country, agencies like substance abuse treatment centers or temporary shelters. One highly successful Safeline effort called “Home Free” operates in partnership with Greyhound Bus Lines. Since 1995, kids have been handed bus tickets for free travel back home or to a place of safety, such as to family member or shelter in another city. The program also follows up with the child later, with hopes of getting them established into work or school. In 2020 alone, Home Free handed out 300 bus tickets to kids who wanted to get off the streets.

The National Runaway Safeline also provides free training to educate troubled kids at-risk for running away. “More and more of what we do is prevention,” says Stern, highlighting their Let’s Talk  curriculum for ages 10yrs-20yrs. The free multi-module lesson plan can be downloaded by concerned adults who want to reach kids in schools, church youth groups, community centers and after-school clubs. The website also features resources (Safeline FAQ) for adults who have a child who might be thinking of running away, offering to put parents and kids on the phone together with NRS to talk it out. Stern says kids need to be surrounded by concerned adults who acknowledge the fear or confusion that can lead a child to run away. “People are in situations not necessarily because they wanna be -- but because they’ve had experiences that led them there… and can sometimes struggle to bring themselves out of it.”

Related article:  A ‘Call To Action’: Challenging Human Trafficking Among Native American Tribes (+podcast)

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