With the addition of Seattle Public Libraries (SPL) to King County’s Safe Place program, teens in crisis now have 27 more places to go for immediate help.
“It’s been in the works for a while,” said YouthCare spokesperson Kali Shilvock, “We’re really excited about it.”
The program is part of a national network of nearly 20,000 “Safe Place” sites, marked with yellow diamond signs, that serve youth ages 12 to 17.
Whether teens have been kicked out of their home, are chronically homeless or are afraid to return to their guardians, they can simply walk into any Safe Place and ask for help. A staff member keeps them safe and comfortable and calls a Safe Place coordinator, who can be on site within 45 minutes to help get them the resources they need, be it emergency shelter or reunion with family.
King County’s network is operated collaboratively by three nonprofits: YouthCare, Friends of Youth and Auburn Youth Resources, with funding from United Way. Each agency manages different sites and has coordinators available 24 hours a day, every day.
The county’s network comprises 1,900 sites, including YMCA facilities, Seattle Parks and Recreation community centers, and all Metro Transit buses, where youth can approach any driver.
Shilvock said libraries make particularly good Safe Places.
“It’s especially beneficial because the librarians and spaces are already seen as safe and trusted places for young people,” she said. “Libraries are a place where young people already go to use Wi-Fi or to have a warm space to read, do research, look for jobs or use the computers. In a crisis, it’s really nice to have a place that they already frequent that they’re comfortable with.”
SPL spokesperson Andra Addison added that libraries are open to anyone and often have longer hours than schools or government offices, typically closing at 8 p.m. All branches have dedicated teen spaces and provide free programming to bring youth together and foster creativity.
Addison said they have been planning for about a year and have considered joining the network since King County Libraries became Safe Places in 2012. SPL staff have now been trained on how to recognize youth in crisis and follow the right steps.
“It took time mostly due to logistics,” Shilvock said. “The large number of SPL staff and branches required many trainings and lots of coordination.”
In 2014, Safe Place agencies responded to calls 74 times, and 72 percent of those youth were placed in safe housing for the night. A report on the county program found that the majority of youth who accessed the network had suffered abuse, while 25 percent came from a family in poverty or without stable housing.
Teens who need help can also call 1.800.422.TEEN to connect with a coordinator directly, or text “safe” to 69866 for the location of the nearest Safe Place.