By LILY KATZ, UW News Lab
As of November 1, Seattle Parks and Recreation facilities in the Ballard area have joined King County’s Safe Place network for teens who are in trouble. Thirty-seven community centers, pools and teen-life centers in King County now offer help for boys and girls ages 12 to 17 who are homeless or feel they can’t return home to their families.
Here’s how it works: A yellow decal on a community-center door indicates that a facility is a Safe Place participant. When a teen comes for help, a Seattle Parks and Recreation employee will offer him or her a place to wait and rest, and call the Safe Place hotline for further assistance. Within 45 minutes, a Safe Place coordinator will arrive to meet with the teen and help him or her return home or find a youth shelter.
“We have thousands of youth who come to our facilities and see Seattle Parks and Rec facilities as places they can go not only to have fun, recreate and get physical activity, but also as trusted places where they can go and be safe,” said Barb Wade, the senior recreation program coordinator for Seattle Parks and Recreation and the woman who developed partnerships for all 37 facilities.
The program is designed to keep youth off the streets and help those who want to reunite with their families do so. Because Seattle Parks and Recreation facilities do not specialize in assisting teens in need, the Safe Place network is intended to allow city employees to do their jobs while providing services that will benefit youth.
“Sometimes, kids are in need of more than we can provide,” Wade said. “For us, it’s a really great partnership because we want to help these kids; it’s just outside of the scope of what we’re able to do.”
The King County Safe Place network partners with three agencies — YouthCare, Friends of Youth and Auburn Youth Resources — all of which have Safe Place coordinators who are prepared to respond.
“Young people on the street, especially first-time runaways, are in extreme danger,” said Melinda Giovengo, the executive director of YouthCare, in a press release from the City of Seattle. “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.”
According to an evaluation of the King County Safe Place program, 86 percent of callers were connected with safe housing, and about 30 percent of the time, callers were reunited with their families.
“A lot of times, kids who are having issues and problems and need help kind of fall through the cracks,” said Monica Haugen, a coordinator for community centers in the Ballard area. “I think it really helps kids knowing that somebody cares. The teens who are coming through are going to be our future, and if we don’t take care of them now, we might not have one.”