By Lisa M. Scarber

Teens often find themselves in crisis or need a place to stay but aren’t always aware of the resources available to them. They should know how and where to get help. Our youth deserve safety and shelter, and many feel they don’t have either. Thanks to Safe Place, immediate help is never too far away.

UMOM is a host to Safe Place, a youth outreach and prevention program for youth ages 12-17 who require immediate help and safety. Some circumstances youth may find the need to use Safe Place includes: experiencing homelessness, not feeling safe at home, experiencing abuse, or finding oneself in an unsafe situation.

Many people ask, “What is Safe Place?” Many can identify the recognizable yellow and black diamond sign with “Safe Place” written on it, but many still are unsure of what the universal symbol means. Safe Place designates businesses and organizations as Safe Place locations, making help readily and easily available to youth in communities across the country. Safe Place locations in Maricopa County include Quik Trip (QT), Metro Valley buses and light rails, libraries, YMCAs, fire stations, public buses, various businesses, and social service facilities. All Designated Safe Place locations display the Safe Place sign, the universal symbol of youth safety. If a youth is unsure of their nearest QT or Metro Valley location, TXT 4 HELP is another resource for the youth to utilize. TXT 4 HELP is a national texting initiative available to youth 24/7.  Teens can text the word “Safe” to 69866. They will be asked for their current location.  Once entered, they will be given the Safe Place location nearest them. They will have the option to respond with the word “2chat” to be directly connected to a counselor.

Once a youth locates a Safe Place site, they will need to tell an employee they are there because of the Safe Place sign. A safe, comfortable place for youth to wait while a licensed Safe Place agency representative arrives on site. The Safe Place agency representative will arrive within the hour and will meet with the youth to help decide what should be done next. They will meet with the youth and offer support, a place to stay, transportation or other resources as needed.

If the need is immediate shelter, the licensed representative will transport the youth to Open Hands, UMOM’s Emergency Crisis Shelter.  Open Hands is a six-bed residential emergency shelter in Phoenix that provides a safe, home-like setting for youth experiencing homelessness, family conflict, or abuse.Once at the shelter, staff and the youth will meet to discuss how the youth can best be helped. One of the most common questions asked is, “do you have to call my parent(s)?” The answer is, “yes,” however, staff works with both the youth and family to assist in safety and what’s in their best interest. Open Hands strives to provide a safe and structured atmosphere that also offers a sense of normalcy amongst youth.

Open Hands offers individual and family counseling with the goal of family reunification. In addition to counseling, youth will receive case management, assisting youth in identifying and meeting goals, receiving educational support as well as identifying community and natural resources and support.  Additionally, Open Hands partners with several community programs, including Free Arts of Arizona and Gabriel’s Angels in to provide group support to our youth.

Approximately 200 youth are served each year through Open Hands. Nearly all who complete the program exit to safe, permanent housing.