Bright Idea: Give Youth a 'Safe Place' to Go

A fireman protects a young child.

A restaurant, a fire station or a library could save a young person’s life. In more than 1,500 communities across the nation, these and other sites have been designated “Safe Place locations” where young people can go when they have nowhere else to go. Safe Place sites provide emergency assistance to youth who are homeless or abused or who have clashed with their families.

“By contacting a Safe Place early on, it is more likely youth will be able to resolve the problem rather than running away,” says Sandy Bowen, executive director of National Safe Place, in Louisville, KY, which works with youth shelters to establish safety-net services for youth.

Bowen spoke to us about how youth-serving organizations can get a Safe Place network started in their communities.

Step 1: Ensure that your community offers comprehensive services for adolescents. For an agency to start a Safe Place program, Bowen says, the organization or others nearby must offer a place for youth to stay (in other words, shelter) as well as counseling and support services. 

Step 2: Organize your troops. For your Safe Place network to successfully get off the ground, you’ll need to bring together youth service providers, businesses, faith groups, social service agencies, schools and transportation authorities. Plan to meet regularly about what’s needed to get up and running, and make sure you include opportunities for youth to be involved in planning your Safe Place initiative, Bowen says.

Step 3: Identify sites that can be part of your Safe Place network. To become a Safe Place site, Bowen says, a business or public space must be youth-friendly and located somewhere youth can easily (and safely) get to. Sites also have to be willing to train employees and advertise the Safe Place program on the front of their buildings.

Step 4: Raise cash for your cause. A Safe Place program typically costs between $15,000 and $20,000 a year to operate, Bowen says, mostly for staff time. (The cost of operating a Safe Place program can be included in your agency’s outreach budget, and some costs are subsidized by National Safe Place’s business partners.)

Step 5: Apply for official Safe Place designation. Detailed instructions for applying are on the National Safe Place website.

Step 6: Train your staff. Safe Place agencies undergo two days of training, on topics such as volunteer recruitment, identifying potential Safe Place sites, media relations and youth outreach. Volunteers complete a six-hour training and a background check.

Step 6: Get the word out to young people. Safe Place agencies must commit to educating and reaching out to youth, Bowen says. Many agencies advertise Safe Place in schools, malls, fast food restaurants and bus or subway stations.

For more information, e-mail or call 1-888-290-7233. 

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