To get a free ticket home, youth between the ages of 12 and 21 must contact the NRS at 1-800-RUNAWAY and be listed on an official runaway report.
For over three decades, Greyhound has been helping runaway youth find their way back to their loved ones. Established in 1987, the transport company's Home Free program provides free transportation to youngsters between the ages of 12 and 21 who want to return home to their families and guardians. "Our buses are going in those directions anyway," Greyhound's manager of public relations told The Washington Post in 1996. "The buses aren't all full. So why can't we put children on board who are trying to get back to their parents? In some cases, the only thing separating runaway kids from getting home to their families is a bus ticket. If that's the case, we can do something about it."
We are so grateful to @GreyhoundBus for their leadership partners on our Home Free program and throughout #NRPM2020. Greyhound's support is critical for us to be able to fulfill our mission of keeping runaway, homeless and at-risk youth safe and off the street. Thank you! pic.twitter.com/WdVs8RYfS9— National Runaway Safeline (@1800RUNAWAY) November 10, 2020
Originally founded by Trailways — the one-time competitor that Greyhound bought out in 1987 — the homeward-bound program has provided free transportation to over 20,000 youth and their family members across the United States so far. Upon taking over the initiative, which originally required runaways to arrange for the free tickets through law enforcement officers, Greyhound took it a step further by bringing "social service agencies into the loop." This was done so that a runaway's initial contact to Home Free wouldn't have to be with the police, which intimidated some youngsters.
Additionally, the company recognized that simply sending a child back home wasn't enough. "It does no good to send that child back to that family if the family doesn't want the child there," Greyhound's manager of public relations explained. The company partnered with the National Runaway Switchboard (NRS) — a toll-free hotline organization that seeks to keep runaway and homeless youth safe — to address this matter and also to get the word out about Home Free to those who need it. In a press release marking the 30th anniversary of the initiative, the NRS revealed that about two million young people run away from home every year, leaving them at risk for homelessness, exploitation, assault, illness, and suicide.
To get a free ticket home, "youth between the ages of 12 and 21 must contact the NRS at 1-800-RUNAWAY and be listed on an official runaway report." If a young person is under the age of 15, Home Free also provides a free ticket for the child's parent or guardian. Runaway youth and their families are required to mutually agree on reunification before a young person begins their journey home. A person can only get a ticket home through the program twice. According to CNN, the NRS works with the youngster and their family or guardian to create a plan for their return and locates resources in the community that will provide support to the youth once they are settled. Once reunited, the organization follows up to make sure the family member arrived home safely and provides additional resources.
The NRS emphasizes that youngsters who run away from home are not "bad." Runaway children are usually running away from something, not towards something, the organization explains. "They are dealing with a situation that feels overwhelming," it states, "be it family dynamics, bullying, gender identity, or being lured from home over the internet. They believe living anywhere else is better; even if this means living on the streets." Nearly half of those interviewed by the organization say they were thrown out of their homes. Although their reasons vary, most report a significant family conflict that had been happening for some time.
According to Greyhound's website, every year, around 400 kids and teenagers who have run away get a free ride home through the program. "Greyhound's partnership with the National Runaway Safeline has been invaluable in creating a safe and successful reunification process for runaway youth and their families," Kim Plaskett, vice president of marketing, Greyhound Lines, Inc, said in 2017. "It is our hope that continuing to provide resources to runaway youth will bring comfort to those looking to reconnect with their loved ones."