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Safe Places For Homeless, Runaway Teens Expands With Light Rail In Arizona

Safe Place valley metro
(Photo courtesy of Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development)
The Valley Metro Safe Place sign.

The light rail keeps expanding throughout the Valley and, every time it does, homeless and vulnerable teens get another Safe Place they can access when they’re in need.

Now, with the opening of the Northwest Extension of the light rail this week, there are a total of 35 designated Safe Places at light rail stations throughout the Valley. It’s a national program that was implemented through the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, a nonprofit that serves homeless and runaway youth. They have almost 200 Safe Places designated throughout the Valley.

They’re marked with a yellow diamond sign and an emergency call box. They are located at every Quick Trip in the Valley, several libraries, some nonprofits and fire departments and on every Valley Metro light rail station platform, according to Kenneth McKinley, vice president of programs for Tumbleweed.

“Every single light rail station is a Safe Place site,” he said. “Last year, we picked up 130 young people who were in a dangerous situation asking for a Safe Place.”

McKinley said they got 155 calls from Safe Place sites last year, and they run the gamut. They’ve had cases of dating violence, kids who ran away from their homes because of family conflict or substance abuse, teens who went AWOL from another youth service agency and, sometimes, he said, they’ve seen cases of runaways who just wanted help reconnecting with their families.

If a teen in a situation like this needs help, they can use the emergency call box on each light rail station platform and get connected to Valley Metro’s control center. Their staff has been trained how to engage young people who are in unsafe situations. Then they connect directly to Tumbleweed staff, who are dispatched to get that teen the help they need including shelter, food and clothing.

“We’re committed to being part of the community, so incorporating something that focuses on community, on teens and safety is really part of our core mission,” said Ann Glaser, a public information specialist with Valley Metro.

The light rail presents the perfect opportunity for youth to connect with the Safe Place program. McKinley said outreach is key so that kids know what to do when they see a Safe Place sign.

“If kids don’t know about this program, then it’s not going to do anything,” McKinley said. He said they want to be where young people congregate, and they want to have a wide reach across the Valley, and the light rail does that.

“The further the light rail expands, the further our reach is, because runaway youth isn’t just a certain part of town, it happens all over the Valley,” he said. “That’s the wonderful thing about the light rail, it really snakes its reach out across the Valley.”

Light rail stations are fitting for Safe Place sites because the light rail is “woven into our community,” Glaser said.

“It’s designed to be a safe space for everyone, especially our youth, so we are striving to be committed to the community and make a difference that way."

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.