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Getting youth off the street.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The people at Looking Glass Community Services have something to celebrate this holiday season: a federal grant of $190,000 per year for the next three years.

The grant will be used to revive the Eugene-based nonprofit organization's Street Outreach Program to homeless and runaway youth, which was slammed by funding cuts in recent years at the local and federal levels.

Seeing funding all but dry up for the program was a bitter turn of events for Looking Glass, which was founded 45 years ago by local volunteers worried about young runaways. Since its founding, the organization has expanded services to include out patient mental health treatment for youth, adults, and families; substance abuse programs for adolescents; a shelter; education and training, and other programs.

But the street outreach program is important because it targets a particularly vulnerable population - homeless young people up to the age of 22. One of Looking Glass' goals is to get all underage youth off the street in Eugene and end sex trafficking, most of whose victims are runaways and homeless youth. The outreach team offers these young people - the vast majority of whom are from Lane County, the team has found - a path toward a stable living situation.

Now the outreach team, which had been down to a couple of people since the recession hit, is gearing up again, thanks to the grant from the federal Family Youth Services Bureau. Hiring just four workers, for a start, will allow Looking Glass to triple its efforts, reaching hundreds of homeless and runaway youth in a year.

This benefits not just Looking Glass' clients but the larger community, the organization's CEO, Craig Opperman, says. The nonprofit organization calculates that every dollar spent getting kids off the street and onto a better path saves taxpayers $5 to $7 down the road in crime, mental and physical health care and other costs.

Looking Glass was the only Oregon program to receive one of the nationwide Youth Services grants, a validation of this highly local approach to solving a local problem.

In a city whose leaders have recently expressed concern about young "travelers" downtown, the Street Outreach Program represents a meaningful response.

The grant award also is a recognition of the vision of Looking Glass' founders 45 years ago and the dedication of the people who work for, and volunteer with, Looking Glass today.

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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 28, 2015
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