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Search for a Runaway Shelter and Hannah's Runaway Reality Story - National Runaway Safeline

16-years-old, pregnant, and looking for a place to stay with the 15-year-old father of her unborn child, Hannah* was in dire straits when she contacted the National Runaway Safeline a year ago. She had been kicked out of her home after her parents learned about the pregnancy and that her boyfriend, James, had moved hundreds of miles to be with her, and the two teens were stranded in a remote Oklahoma town with nowhere to go. When NRS’ frontline member (aka ‘liner’) Morris took Hannah’s call, he was surprised by the rare circumstances, and having a pregnant young woman with the father of the child complicated the search for a shelter where they could spend the night and get their bearings.

“She wanted to find a place that they could both go,” said Morris. “Not that they would be exactly together, but he had come from some distance to be with her, and he had gone there with the support of his parents. He wanted to be with her while she went wherever she was going to go. There was nowhere around that was exactly a place for a pregnant girl and her boyfriend to go, so I just started calling places that might be appropriate, and I found a shelter where I ended up having to talk to the director of the place because they were not really a runaway shelter. This shelter figured out a way that they could bend their rules a little bit and they were able to take both these kids, and I called the boy’s parents in Chicago and confirmed that they were O.K. with his being there so that the shelter could call them and talk to them.”

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“It was one of those things where you start off wondering, ‘My goodness, where are these people ever going to go?’ And it all worked out fine,” said Morris. “They had a place to go where they could stay for a few days until things got sorted out, whereas it looked like they were just going to likely end up on the street in this remote area of Oklahoma. The two of them were so pleased, and the father of the teenage boy had been very worried about his son being down there in what he called ‘redneck country.’ He was afraid his son was going to be on the other end of a shotgun, literally, and was risking his life to be down there and support his girlfriend. It turned out as well as could be expected, and I felt very happy to be a part of putting that together.”

“I just started calling places that might be appropriate, and I found a shelter where I ended up having to talk to the director of the place because they were not really a runaway shelter.”

Even without the specific challenges of Hannah and James’ situation, it can be difficult for runaways to find shelter, and NRS’ liners make the process considerably less intense for the callers. “When the youth involved is 17 or younger, we usually try to make the calls for them,” said Morris. “As in situations like this, they sometimes need a little advocacy to make the situations work out, and they’re not always in a position to advocate for themselves. And they’re not always in a situation where they can necessarily explain what’s going on or why they need the help. Most of the time we make those calls for them or with them.”

“Sometimes the shelter wants to talk to the youth, and then we bring them on the line and do a conference call,” said Morris. “Sometimes I just ask for the youth’s permission to explain their situation, and then assuming they give permission for that, I will talk to the shelter in detail about what’s going on with the youth and why they need their help. It can take half an hour or an hour, especially these days, shelters are full or have waiting lists and you can sometimes make four or five calls and still not find a place where they can go right away. But we make those calls because we don’t want to send somebody to a shelter where they’re not going to find a place to stay if we can avoid it. Sometimes we do say, ‘Well, you can go to this place and you can stay there at least during the day, and they will help you try to find a place where you can spend the night, because the shelters sometimes know of other options that aren’t in our database.”

“Shelters are full or have waiting lists and you can sometimes make four or five calls and still not find a place where they can go right away.”

These challenges are what make the work fulfilling for Morris, and he finds considerable joy in helping runaway youth find solutions to their problems. “It feels like you’ve made somebody’s life easier when you help them think through the options that they have to deal with whatever the issues are that they’re facing that day with their parents or with their teenager or if they’re looking for place to stay or whatever. It feels like you’ve contributed something good, and that’s a rewarding feeling.”

Morris has been an NRS’ frontline team member since 2003.

*The youths’ names and details have been changed to respect anonymity. 

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