North Central News

Troubled teens find a ‘safe place’ at LRT stops

By Teri Carnicelli

Every year, hundreds of Arizona youth wind up on the streets. It could be from substance abuse problems, or unsafe home situations, or simply because a teenager got into a fight with his parents, ran away, and now doesn’t know how to go back home.

 Light Rail Supervisor Michelle Enciso, right, points out the new “Safe Place” emergency button for homeless youth to use for assistance to Doug Criswell, a teen who has been served by the programs at the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development (submitted photo).

Light Rail Supervisor Michelle Enciso, right, points out the new “Safe Place” emergency button for homeless youth to use for assistance to Doug Criswell, a teen who has been served by the programs at the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development (submitted photo).

In any of these situations, there is an opportunity for these vulnerable young people to get off the streets and into a better situation—and all it takes is the push of a button.

Last month Valley Metro and Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development announced that all light rail stations are now considered a “Safe Place” for youth ages 17 and younger who are in distress. The program was officially unveiled during a press conference on Sept. 18 at the highly used Central Avenue and Camelback Road light rail station.

“Any teen can experience an unsafe situation,” explains Michelle Cerniglia, Safe Place education and outreach manager for Tumbleweed. “Last year we had 129 calls, or one every three days on average. We expect that number to increase thanks to this new partnership with Valley Metro.”

How the system works is a youth in crisis presses the bright red button found at all 28 light rail stations in the Valley, and the call is answered by a Valley Metro dispatcher. After asking a few basic questions, the dispatcher will send a Valley Metro employee to wait with the youth until a service vehicle arrives from Tumbleweed to transport the youth to its Open Hands shelter. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There the teen will receive a bed, food, counseling and any other needed services for a two-week period. The goal, Cerniglia explains, is family reunification, but if that’s not possible, Tumbleweed to will try to find more permanent housing and ongoing services for the youth in crisis.

City of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton attended the kick-off event and commented, “I’ve been in public life a long time and have had the opportunity to interact with many nonprofit organizations. Tumbleweed is a truly great organization. In our city, we have no ‘throw-away’ kids. If we believe every child has a chance for success, we have to do more for those youth. We are all in this together.”

The addition of light rail stations to the existing network expands the reach of the Safe Place program and provides 24-hour access to those services. Additional Safe Place locations include Quick Trip gas stations, Arizona Federal Credit Union branches, and all city of Phoenix public libraries. In addition, teens can text “Safe” and their current location to 68966 or call 602-841-5799.

To learn more, go to valleymetro.org/safeplace.

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