By Natalie Ortiz
Few people pay attention to the bright, yellow diamond-shaped Safe Place signs placed in front of building entrances around the city.
As part of a national program, the signs indicate that a business or an organization can assist teenagers facing a crisis or runaway youth. The Catholic Charities Diocese of Lubbock has brought 190 Safe Place locations to the city and surrounding counties for over 10 years through a grant.
If someone needing help enters a Safe Place, the employees are supposed to call a 24/7 hotline, said Kathy Hart, Lubbock’s Safe Place coordinator. A Safe Place counselor would then try to arrive to the location within 30 minutes.
All Lubbock city libraries, along with several major community and charity centers, are designated Safe Places.
So are all of Lubbock’s fire stations, said Division Chief Steve Holland of Lubbock Fire Rescue.
“If it was an at-risk youth, … a runaway, we’d try to work through the system to at least get them shelter,” Holland said. “Basically, all we are is just a place where they’ll just stay until we can get the proper authorities there.”
J&B Coffee is also a registered Safe Place establishment, but owner Scott Cline said it has never been needed. J&B Coffee employees said they do not have much knowledge of the program.
“That sticker is pretty old,” Cline said. “That’s probably some education we need to do on our part.”
Hart confirmed the program has not been utilized much since it began, possibly because children and teenagers fear trouble.
“I think a lot of time when kids run away, they don’t want to be associated with authority,” Hart said. “And they know that possibly we’re going to have to call the authorities or their parents.”
Holland said the program might be underused because of lack of awareness.
“[It is] a lack of knowing that those facilities are there to give them a place to get them away from the danger, or if they just happen to be a runaway and they’ve decided they don’t have anywhere to stay, they don’t have food,” Holland said.
The Safe Place program provides shelter to young people who reach out for the assistance.
“We have a facility here locally that we contract with that we can put them up for a few days until we can get a hold of their family, get some counseling, find out what the true issues are and hopefully resolve them,” Hart said.
Troubled youth can call the 24-hour Safe Place hotline at 1-800-530-4704, or text the word “SAFE,” along with a location, to 69866 to get help.