Duluth launches 'Safe Place' program for at-risk youthBeginning April 24, a young person who has run away or is in a threatening situation will be able to take refuge at any place identified by the yellow-and-black, diamond-shaped “Safe Place” sign that indicates staff have been trained to provide assistance.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth will be a safer place for kids in trouble starting April 24.
That, at least, is the goal of the national Safe Place program being initiated in Duluth by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.
Beginning April 24, a young person who has run away or is in a threatening situation will be able to take refuge at any place identified by the yellow-and-black, diamond-shaped “Safe Place” sign that indicates staff have been trained to provide assistance. Personnel in the “Safe Place” will call a volunteer who will come to give the young person a ride to Lutheran Social Service’s Bethany Crisis Shelter in Duluth. Within 30 minutes, a representative of the agency will arrive to talk with the youth and address the situation.
The need is apparent, said Dawn Shykes, program director for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. It’s estimated that on any given night about 2,500 youth are homeless in Minnesota, and 40 percent of those are outside of the Twin Cities region, she said.
On Wednesday the program was ceremonially launched in a presentation at the Ordean building. Twenty-two people — representing Lutheran Social Service, the city of Duluth, the city’s Fire and Police departments, the Duluth Transit Authority and a group from Leadership Duluth that put their volunteer efforts into the project — filled the front of the conference room as they announced that Duluth will be the first community in Minnesota with a Safe Place program.
In Duluth, many of the “Safe Places” will be on wheels. Each of the DTA’s 42 buses will carry the “Safe Place” logo next to its door, and each of its drivers will be trained to respond to a young person seeking help, said Dennis Jensen, the DTA’s general manager.
“Safe Place” formalizes a policy the DTA has had for years that its drivers seek to help passengers, and particularly young passengers, who are in peril, Jensen said.
Initially, the Duluth YMCA and the Valley Youth Center in West Duluth and Lutheran Social Service’s Renaissance House also will be designated as Safe Places, Shykes said.
Before long, it’s expected that all eight of the city’s fire stations will be Safe Places. Deputy Fire Chief Charles Smith said legal issues still have to be resolved and firefighters need to be trained, but he hopes the fire stations can be Safe Places by the end of May.
“Nationally, fire stations are key to Safe Place,” Shykes said. “They’re in most neighborhoods geographically, and they’re 24-hour facilities, and I think intrinsically most kids know that firefighters are safe people.”
The goal by the end of the year is to have 25 Safe Place sites, counting the DTA buses as a single site, Shykes said. Ideally, the sites will be open 24 hours a day and spread throughout the city. Among examples in other places are convenience stores and fast-food restaurants.
Shykes said she hopes to have between 20 and 25 volunteers willing to provide transportation from the Safe Place to the shelter.
To let kids know about the program, outreach specialist Kathy Hermes will make presentations in classrooms, starting with middle schools, Shykes said.
One thing students will learn about is TXT 4 HELP. Teens will be able to text the word “SAFE” along with their current location to 69866 and receive a text message with the name and address of the closest Safe Place as well as the number for the youth shelter.
Safe Place began in Louisville, Ky., in 1983, Shykes said, and has grown to 20,000 locations in 40 states; Minnesota will be the 41st. Locally, Lutheran Social Service has wanted to start the program for five years, but funding sources didn’t come together until this year, she said.
A program also is being established in Minneapolis, but isn’t quite ready to be launched, Shykes said.
To learn more about Safe Place, or to inquire about volunteering or offering your facility as a Safe Place, contact Dawn Shykes, program manager for Lutheran Social Service, at (218) 626-1901, ext. 14.