The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently gave a two-year, $250,000 grant to Briarpatch, a Madison-centered nonprofit organization concentrating on support and outreach to teenagers and families in the region.

The agency provides 24-hour crisis phone lines, emergency shelters, support groups and other resources for youths in Dane, Dodge, and Jefferson counties.

Although no shelter currently exists in Madison for homeless teens, officials report the number of homeless teens continues to increase.

“Generally, most homeless teens in our area jump from one temporary situation to another,” Briarpatch program director June Paul said.

“Many live in temporary homes, foster placement, with friends, or with older adults who exploit them,” Paul said. “The problem is, these are temporary solutions to an ongoing, long-term problem for homeless youth.”

Sometimes youth need to escape from situations at home because they are experiencing physical or emotional abuse, Paul said.

Briarpatch alleviates these stresses, she said, by providing a wide range of programs.

“Homelessness for youth is one of the most debilitating issues they can experience,” Paul said. “Federal studies have shown that youth who experience homelessness past second grade, and for a period of over a year, have serious problems that follow, such as mental illness, behavior problems, learning disabilities, delinquent behavior and health problems.”

The new grant, which amounts to a 50 percent funding increase from last year, will aid all of Briarpatch’s programs, Briarpatch developer Joseph Bednarowski said.

Bednarowski said the funding will also focus on Briarpatch’s Transitional Living Program (II), which ties youth issues into the UW-Madison campus.

Each year, Bednarowski said, the program hires a UW-Madison student as a case worker. Next year there will be more possibilities of involving UW students.

“This year’s additional funding means that we could hire an additional case worker and open up several additional slots for qualified youth,” he said.

Briarpatch’s current programs include Street Outreach, which searches for runaway and homeless youth and provides information or referrals to youth regarding many issues; the Transitional Living Program, which assists a handful of teen runaways interested in developing skills for independent living; Crisis Intervention & Runaway Services, which provides short- and long-term counseling for crises; Parent Adolescent Counseling/Home Family Counseling, which includes efforts to strengthen the relations between youth and their family; CHOICES, which offers weekly meetings regarding typical adolescent issues and the choices youth are often confronted with; Teens Like Us, which is a social support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender issues; Just A Bunch of Ordinary Guys and Gals in Theatre, which presents dramas that encourage teens to think about the prevention of certain types of problems; and GATE, a project that targets youth who are at risk of academic failure.

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