It has been 30 years since the first Safe Place Program began as a way to get kids off the street and safe from cold, hunger, predators, violence and abuse. Safe Place was envisioned as a way to provide access to immediate help and supportive resources to young people in crisis through a community network of sites sustained by qualified agencies, trained volunteers and businesses. The success of Safe Place depends on partnerships among people who care about youth and want to help the young people in their own community.
In King County, Friends of Youth collaborates with YouthCare in Seattle and Auburn Youth Resources in South King County, as each agency provides youth services in different parts of the county. Safe Place coordinates youth service agencies with local community sites that are easily accessible to young people. Youth may enter designated Safe Places, with the posted distinctive yellow diamond logo near the entrance, and ask for help. Trained site staff members connect the youth to King County Safe Place for assistance.
King County Metro Transit was the first community site to join the effort, creating more than1,200 mobile sites on buses throughout the county. Bus operators daily serve on the front lines in the community, helping commuters and solving problems, so they were happy to be able to offer a new tool for helping young people in trouble. A youth need only ask the bus driver about a safe place. That simple request sets in motion a coordinated response, with the bus driver contacting the dispatch center by radio and dispatch contacting the on-call Safe Place responder. Within 45 minutes, a staff member from one of the three partner agencies will meet the bus at a specific location to connect the youth to community resources or emergency shelter. The Safe Place response system is available 24 hours a day.
On any given night, the One Night Count estimates that as many as 960 youth in King County have no safe place to sleep. In a 2008 study by the City of Seattle, “Who Pays the Price? Assessment of Youth Involvement in Prostitution in Seattle,” it was estimated that 300-500 children in King County under the age of 18 are sexually exploited each year. That’s a troubling statistic, particularly when combined with estimates that one in three runaways will be approached by sexual predators within 48 hours on the street. That is where the Safe Place program can intervene as a quick connection to shelter and services that reaches out into the community, wherever young people find themselves in need.
The initial idea for a Safe Place system for King County was coordinated by King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert and brought together a number of potential supporters and partners. Laurie Jackson, Executive Director of National Safe Place, and National Safe Place Organizational Advancement Director Susan Harmon traveled to King County from the national headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.
Upon its launch on Aug. 31, 2011, King County Safe Place became the only Safe Place network in Washington State. One year later, it already was one of the busiest networks in the nation, with more than 45 young people accessing the system within the first 10 months.
After Metro, King County libraries were the next community sites to join the network. The first day that the libraries posted the Safe Place signs, a teenage boy walked into the Issaquah Library and approached a librarian for help. Safe Place [ab1] was able to respond and, ultimately, helped him reunite with his family.
In 2012, United Way of King County provided new support and attention for the Safe Place program with a grant to support the response team while expanding outreach efforts to more youth and community sites. Additional community facilities already used by teens are joining the effort, and businesses also are being recruited to participate.
Friends of Youth is proud to be among the 140 youth agencies across the country that host the Safe Place program in more than 1,500 communities in 41 states and the District of Columbia. More information about Safe Place is available at http://www.friendsofyouth.org/safeplace.aspx and at www.nationalsafeplace.org.