He was unaware of Greyhound Bus and NRS’ Home Free program when he spoke to NRS frontline team member Joyce, and was elated to learn that he’d be able to get a free bus ticket home if his situation qualified.
18 years old, penniless, and over 2,000 miles from home, Kevin* is one of the most fortunate youth to contact the National Runaway Safeline (NRS) for assistance.
Having traveled from his home in Raleigh, West Virginia, to visit cousins in Reno, Nevada, Kevin found himself in need when he discovered that he had purchased a returning train ticket for the wrong date, and he wouldn’t be able to cover the $20 change fee and the $85 fare difference to get a new ticket. He was unaware of Greyhound Bus and NRS’ Home Free program when he spoke to NRS frontline team member Joyce, and was elated to learn that he’d be able to get a free bus ticket home if his situation qualified.
So what makes Kevin so fortunate? The most immediate benefit in his case is that he had a place to stay for the next few days, which isn’t the case for most youth. “Normally the situation is they’re on the streets,” says Joyce. “Wherever they went, usually it’s a situation where you think it’s going to be O.K. or you went with a boyfriend or a girlfriend or whatever, and you find yourself stranded without anything. No money. No place to stay. No food, often. We usually have much more dire situations when a youth calls us for a Home Free ticket.”
Many youth in a similar position as Kevin wouldn’t even qualify for a Home Free ticket. He didn’t run away from home but had permission from his grandmother to visit his cousins. Typically, that permission puts the responsibility on the guardian to find a way back home for the youth. There are exceptions, though, and Kevin’s situation is one of them. His disabled grandmother’s only income is her disability check, and she had just used it to pay their bills when she found out about her grandson’s predicament. The lack of funds meant that Kevin qualified for Home Free as a youth in a crisis of extreme poverty, but there were still more steps in the process before he could get a ticket.
The Home Free process might be a frustrating one for callers, but in order to guarantee that the youth is going to a safe home environment, NRS liners need to get a significant amount of information. “Sometimes we can’t get the Home Free done quickly,” says Joyce. “You have to have a conference call with the guardian, and sometimes they’re not available or they’re working. They have to get us I.D.s, we have to see proof that they go together. Birth certificates, photo I.D.s, whatever we have to link them.”
Continuing Kevin’s good fortune, this verification process was exceptionally smooth. “It’s not often that in one shift I’m able to get the call, be able to get all the I.D., get all the paperwork, get the ticket booked,” says Joyce. “He had a photo I.D., his grandmother had a photo I.D., and they had the same address. We have to prove that he lives there, that it actually is home. And if it’s not a home address, we have to find a way to link them to find why this is now home. Is it a safe place? In this case, it was unusually easy.”
Joyce has found that a lot of times youth will call and give an overblown story, thinking it will help, but it makes the situation worse. Her job is to get to the truth of the matter because she can’t move forward with the Home Free process until she has the same story from the youth and their guardian. She also can’t tell the guardian the youth’s interpretation of events because of NRS’ confidentiality rules, so if the youth isn’t honest, it becomes a major obstacle in finding a way back home.
Kevin is an example of what it looks like when everything goes right in the Home Free process. He was honest about his situation. Joyce was able to verify his story and the legitimacy of his guardian, and he had a place to stay while he waited the few days until his rescheduled return bus trip. Not all youth are as fortunate of Kevin, and it’s even more imperative that callers are open about their circumstances if they are in more dangerous situations. The process typically doesn’t move as rapidly as it did for Kevin, and youth can help expedite it by being honest with NRS liners. Honesty really is the best policy when it comes to acquiring a Home Free ticket, and telling the truth is the first step on the trip back home.
Joyce has been an NRS frontline team member since 2012 and an NRS board member since 2014.
*The youth’s name and details have been changed to respect anonymity.