Local leaders of agencies committed to preventing and ending youth homelessness are concerned that cuts to Metro routes will not only impair the ability of youth to access transportation but will also impact a regional community safety net for youth in crisis, Safe Place.
Safe Place in King County was launched in August 2011 in partnership with Metro Transit. Every Metro bus is a Safe Place site where youth ages 12-17 can ask for help. In the two years since the network launched, many youth in crisis have found a connection to safety on a Metro bus.
“The concept of Safe Place is simple. When a youth in trouble sees the Safe Place logo, they know they have found a place where they can ask for help and get it immediately. A trained staff member from one of our three agencies, Auburn Youth Resources, Friends of Youth or YouthCare, respond to every call and within 45 minutes one of our counselors will meet the young person, assess his or her needs, helping the youth get to shelter, return home or find an alternative safe placement that very same day” said Terry Pottmeyer, CEO of Friends of Youth.
Metro buses, each one a Safe Place site, have proven to be a very effective way to extend the front doors of youth shelters and counseling services throughout the county. And, although Metro is one of many Safe Place sites, it is unique in not only its regional reach, but its availability to youth during the evening and overnight hours when many other Safe Place sites, like our local libraries, are closed.
“Two and a half years after its launch, King County Safe Place is one of the busiest networks in the nation,” said Melinda Giovengo, Executive Director of YouthCare in Seattle. “This partnership has been a great way to reach out and help youth because of the unique way it connects and coordinates existing resources, like Metro buses, providing a 24 hour regional response to the issues facing our young people.”
The proposed 16% reduction in bus service county-wide, including elimination of many routes serving suburban and rural areas, as well as reductions in off-peak hours, would mean fewer opportunities to connect to safety for homeless and runaway youth. Data from the King County Safe Place network show that most youth who have accessed Safe Place through a Metro bus did so outside of peak hours (Metro defines peak as 6-9 am and 3-6pm). Only one pickup occurred during peak hours; most occurred between 6pm and 3am.
“We are concerned that with fewer buses on the roads, and reductions to Metro service to rural and suburban communities, youth in crisis will lose a critical piece of the existing safety net,” said Jim Blanchard, Executive Director of Auburn Youth Resources, an agency providing service to youth in South King County. “Even losing one youth to the streets or a predator because timely help was unavailable when needed, is one too many.”
In addition to Safe Place, all three agencies participate in Metro’s discounted fare program, buying discounted bus tickets each year to help homeless and at-risk youth get to school, work, shelter, housing, and other appointments safely and efficiently. Transit is an essential link to education and the support services that help homeless young people need to move beyond the streets and prepare for life.
Speaking for the group, Pottmeyer hopes that the cities, county and rural communities of King County will continue to work together to avoid cuts to Metro bus service. “Maintaining bus service throughout the county is a good thing not only for commuters, but a critical lifeline for the youth we serve.”
The King County Safe Place is made possible through funding provided by United Way of King County. Safe Place is part of a national network of more than 20,000 partnering businesses and community locations that display the yellow diamond Safe Place sign, a safety net for youth in crisis who have nowhere else to turn.