Seattle Parks and Recreation facilities are the first City of Seattle agencies to become part of the Safe Place network in King County. As of November 1, the start of Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Month, 37 Seattle Parks and Recreation facilities are a Safe Place where youth ages 12-17 can ask for help when in crisis. These facilities include Seattle Parks and Recreation’s 26 community centers, eight indoor pools and three teen life centers.

“We are excited to be part of the Safe Place program. This program is in line with our mission to provide safe, welcoming places for the public,” said Christopher Williams, Seattle Parks and Recreation Acting Superintendent. “Being a Safe Place expands our ability to help youth in our centers.”

Community center doors now bear the distinctive yellow decal that signals to young people that they can find help and safety inside. Facility staff have been trained in the protocol to follow when a young person asks for help: offer the young person a safe and quiet place to wait and rest, and call the Safe Place hotline to notify the Safe Place coordinator of the situation. Within 45 minutes, a Safe Place coordinator will arrive to assess the teen’s needs, helping them either return home or go to a youth shelter, as appropriate.

“Seattle’s community centers are a natural fit for the Safe Place program. Young people already see them as safe and trusted locations, and we often get referrals from staff,” said Melinda Giovengo, Executive Director of YouthCare. “Now, facility staff members know exactly who to call when a young person needs help, opening the doors of our shelter and helping community center staff do their jobs more effectively.”

The King County Safe Place network is run in partnership with YouthCare in Seattle, Friends of Youth on the Eastside, and Auburn Youth Resources in South King County. Each agency has a Safe Place coordinator on staff, and has emergency shelter beds available to teens in crisis. This partnership ensures that no matter where a young person is, help is always close at hand.

The goal of the program is to prevent youth homelessness by preventing a young person from spending their first night on the streets and to help youth who have been on the run for some time to reconnect with family and other services.

“Young people on the street, especially first-time runaways, are in extreme danger,” Giovengo warned. “If we can get that child into shelter or, better yet, help them return home, we can keep them out of the grasp of predators who would exploit them, and keep them from becoming chronically homeless. Often there are resources we can provide their parents or caregivers to make the home a safer and more stable environment for the youth.”

A recently completed independent evaluation of the Safe Place program in King County found that the Safe Place program has exceeded each of its goals, and is successfully intervening to help runaway and homeless young people access shelter, return home, or connect to other resources as needed. The report found that over 30% of clients contacted Safe Place before spending a night on the streets, and 86% of callers were connected with safe housing. Nearly one-third of the time, the caller was successfully reunited with their family.

Seattle Parks and Recreation’s community centers join a network of agencies and organizations providing more than 1,800 Safe Place sites throughout the county, including King County Metro Transit, King County libraries, YMCA facilities, United Way of King County, and the City of Snoqualmie. Launched in 2011, the program has expanded in 2013 thanks to support from the United Way of King County.

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.