New community program to provide ‘Safe Places’ for youth throughout cityYellow and black signs, diamond-shaped like familiar road signs, are about to start appearing in storefronts and building entrances throughout Duluth.
Yellow and black signs, diamond-shaped like familiar road signs, are about to start appearing in storefronts and building entrances throughout Duluth.
But rather than signaling caution to drivers, the signs read “Safe Place” and are meant to welcome youth in need. It’s all part of a new program being launched by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and the Bethany Crisis Shelter.
“Youth in the community who need a safe place to be, when they see these signs in local businesses or programs, they can go into that business and the people in that building have been trained on how to help them get access to coming out here to the shelter,” said Dawn Shykes, youth services director at Bethany Crisis Shelter, which is operated by Lutheran Social Service.
The Safe Place program is an extension of the shelter’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, which allows children up to the age of 17 to stay at the Morgan Park shelter for up to 21 days, or receive guidance on the next step. Safe Place will simply allow youth to gain access to the shelter’s services in locations throughout the city.
Several locations have already signed on as Safe Places, including LSS’ Renaissance House, the YMCA and Valley Youth Center. Shykes said it’s likely that Duluth Fire Department locations will be involved, allowing for 24-7 access throughout the city, as well as the Duluth Transit Authority, potentially allowing every city bus to become a “mobile Safe Place.”
“That’s just to start,” Shykes said. “We have other agencies within the community that we’re looking at becoming sites.”
The program is designed for youth experiencing any number of problems, from conflicts at home or with peers to stalking or human trafficking.
“It’s really about increasing the safety net for youth in our community,” Shykes said. “The real mission is to provide resources to any youth in crisis.”
Safe Place is a national program, founded in Louisville, Ky., in 1983. A soft opening is planned for Duluth on Wednesday, at which time it will become the first Safe Place program in the state.
The city of Duluth is supporting the effort and will host a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon Wednesday at the Ordean Building.
“It’s an opportunity to ensure that children have a place to go, instead of winding up on the streets,” said Daniel Fanning, community relations officer for the city. “Children looking to get away, to go somewhere safe and secure, will be in the right hands.”
Fanning said he believes the fire department ultimately will be a partner in the program and possibly the libraries as well.
“With the fire departments, we already have trained professionals there. They have experience dealing with similar circumstances,” he said. “And it’s just one additional asset and resource. With the city being spread out 26 miles wide, it’s helpful to be able to spread out the locations, which the fire department already does.”
Russ Salgy, executive director of the Valley Youth Center said that his location is a natural fit for the program because a lot of children in West Duluth are already familiar with the location and staff.
“I think because of our connection to the kids out in West Duluth and the age range that Safe Place serves, there’s a chance that most of those kids have been through here at some point,” he said. “We’ll probably know who they are, and they know who we are.”
The program, however, is still in its infancy and Shykes doesn’t expect it to immediately take off. First, the community has to become familiar with the program and its mission.
“There’s a lot of things that are having to happen simultaneously with this. It’s the volunteer track, the business track, the outreach track,” she said. “In the next two months we’ll be working with outreach to kids in the schools to actually be able to explain what exactly it is and how they can access these services.”
The program is also in need of volunteers. When a child goes to a safe place location, the shelter is alerted and a volunteer is sent to visit with the youth or transport him or her to the shelter. Shykes said that, ideally, a child shouldn’t have to wait more than 20 to 30 minutes for a volunteer to arrive.
Through community outreach, Shykes said she also hopes that business owners and employees will be informed of nearby Safe Places to be able to direct children to the nearest location. Anyone can also text “SAFE” along with their current location to 69866 to receive the location of the closest place.
Shykes said the goal is to have 25 locations throughout Duluth by the end of 2013. Over time, services could be expanded to neighboring communities as well. Lutheran Social Service also operates shelters in Carlton and Virginia, potentially allowing for expansion into the Cloquet area and the Iron Range.
“Ideally, we want locations across the city, with a mix of local businesses and organizations, including 24-7 locations,” she said. “Crisis occurs at all times.”
If you are interested in volunteering to help with the program, contact Shykes at (218) 626-1901, ext. 14