Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

Protecting Children, Strengthening Families, Building Communities

Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs

Youth become homeless for multiple and complex reasons, including:

  • Lack of affordable housing and family poverty
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Mental illness and/or substance abuse among family members
  • Problems at school
  • Leaving detention facilities or aging out of foster care without having a stable place to live
  • Rejection from family because of:
    • Sexual orientation or gender identity
    • An unplanned pregnancy
    • Use of drugs and alcohol
  • Conflict with family members over these or other issues, causing the youth to run away

Unaccompanied homeless youth are at a higher risk for physical and sexual assault, illness, and human trafficking.

Youth Resources

The Resources for Runaway and Homeless Youth map shows where the different programs are located, and who to contact should you have a question about a specific program.

Program Overview

It is the goal of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) program to ensure every youth in Wisconsin has a safe place to sleep at night.

DCF funds specific Runaway and Homeless Youth programs across the state to provide services. The Resources for Runaway and Homeless Youth map shows where the different programs are located, and who to contact should you have a question about a specific program.

DCF endorses a Housing First approach for RHY programs. Housing First is a rights-based, client-centered approach emphasizing client choice in terms of housing and supports.

Programs are designed to protect runaway and homeless youth ages 12-21. Whenever possible, there is an effort to reunite them with their families.

In cases where reunification is not possible, these programs are designed to help youth move forward from crisis to secure alternative safe living arrangements. This is accomplished through targeted services such as:

  • Crisis intervention
  • Mediation
  • Shelter care
  • Counseling
  • Referrals
  • Basic need supplies
  • Aftercare services

Given the many challenges facing homeless youth, it is important to provide safe and stable housing. Shelter is a basic human need. Safe and stable housing can function as a platform promoting positive outcomes in

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Permanent connections
  • Well-being

These outcomes are explored further in the Youth Services Framework. An approach to youth service delivery used by the Bureau of Youth Services and its partners.

Program Resources

Wisconsin Websites

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Education for Homeless Children and Youth provides information on the education of homeless children and youth in the state.

National Websites

Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center (RHYTTAC) is the training and technical assistance provider, offering webinars, trainings, and more for all RHY grantees.

Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) – Runaway and Homeless Youth describes supported RHY programs such as the Street Outreach Program, the Basic Center Program, and more.

National Network for Youth (NN4Y) is a national membership organization, which includes the National Youth Advisory Council and the National Coalition for Homeless Youth. NN4Y works to affect public policy and strengthen useful responses to youth homelessness.

U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) Framework to End Youth Homelessness: A Resource Text for Dialogue and Action describes their framework to end youth homelessness.

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) provides national information on the education of homeless children and youth.