Q&A: How Fresno’s Safe Place Program Gets Everyone Into the Business of Helping Youth

Young people reading in a library.

In California’s Fresno County, teens who need a safe place to go have 263 options. The county participates in the Safe Place program, a national initiative that gives youth ages 11 to 17 somewhere to get help when they can’t go home. Local businesses, schools, libraries, fire stations, busses and other locations open their doors and connect young people to the nearest shelter and other social services.

In honor of National Safe Place Week, March 18-24, NCFY spoke with Joe Martinez, who coordinates Fresno’s program for the county’s Economic Opportunities Commission. We asked Martinez how he built one of the nation’s largest Safe Place networks from the ground up.

NCFY: Your network includes Walmart stores, convenience stores, the county court system and public busses. How do you involve folks in the Safe Place program who aren’t usually in the business of helping youth?

Martinez: Isn’t everyone in the business of helping youth? No, seriously, we try to approach youth-friendly businesses and promote the idea that every youth deserves a safe place, whether at home, at school or in the community. We let [businesses] know that they’ve been a safe place all along. And by joining the network, they’ll get training and support from the National Safe Place organization, the backing from our local agency, and a group of people and organizations that are there to help when a kid needs immediate refuge.

NCFY: And once a business expresses an interest, what are the next steps?

Martinez: We make formal partnerships with them. For corporate stores, sometimes we have to go through the company headquarters. Right now, I’m trying to formalize agreements with our local Starbucks and Supercuts stores. I’m able to show them where they are designated as a Safe Place site in other communities, so that helps establish some precedence.

Once a business joins the network, we provide training based on a curriculum from the National Safe Place organization. We make sure that every employee knows what the yellow and black sign means and how to help youth who need help. Then, we continue to update all of our partners on the program through newsletters, flyers and regular meetings.

NCFY: Who are some of your biggest partners?

Martinez: We’re the only Safe Place network in the country to involve our whole school district. That’s 105 campuses. Another partner, Fresno Area Express, has designated every city bus as a Safe Place. From any bus stop, teens in crisis can board a local bus and tell the driver that they need a "safe place." Those two words activate a policy that allows the youth to board the bus at no cost. The teen stays onboard until a route supervisor is dispatched to meet them. From there, our local youth shelter will help provide services.

Visit the National Safe Place website for more information, including details about how to become a Safe Place agency.

More Info

Bright Idea: Give Youth a ‘Safe Place’ to Go” 

“Voices from the Field: Laurie Jackson of National Safe Place” 

“NCFY Recommends: Hotline Numbers Every Youth Should Have” 

9-5 pm Eastern