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New program provides Colorado Springs-area teens a "Safe Place"

December 12, 2017 Updated: December 13, 2017 at 7:26 am
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One high schooler slept behind a Loaf 'N Jug last school year. Another, in Metcalfe Park and a third at Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8's stadium.

For Promis Bruno, it's nothing short of "heartbreaking."

"If we're not connecting them to an agency, where are they going?" said Bruno, a District 8 social worker.

Now, those students have a Safe Place to get help.

On Monday, the Pikes Peak Library District announced that a dozen locations are part of the National Safe Place Network - an initiative offering teens who are runaways, homeless, bullied or in fear of being kicked out of their house a refuge for help.

The program - the first of its kind in Colorado - is a partnership with Urban Peak, a Colorado Springs nonprofit focusing on homeless teens and youths.

"This is a collaborative community prevention initiative that everyone can get behind," said Mayor John Suthers. "Meeting the needs of young people now can help prevent more serious issues later on."

The concept is simple: Teens can approach any library staff member and request help and a safe place. At those words, the staff member will direct the teen to a private room, and provide a snack and water.

Then the staff member will call a dedicated phone line connected to Urban Peak, which will direct one of roughly 30 volunteers living across the city to pick up the teen and take he or she to the nonprofit's shelter, 423 E. Cucharras St.

The library district trained its entire staff - roughly 500 people - in the program, and all but two locations now bear yellow signs designating it as a "Safe Place." The Ute Pass and Palmer Lake libraries are expected to join in early 2018.

"Ultimately, this program is going to mean that more teens find a safe place, and find it sooner," said Shawna Kemppainen, Urban Peak's executive director.

The program is part of the National Safe Place Network, which boasts nearly 22,000 Safe Place locations in 37 states, said Hillary Ladig, the organization's spokeswoman.

It began in 1983 in Louisville, Ky., as an outreach program to help teens access the local shelter. Since then, more than 358,000 youths have either visited a Safe Place, texted its 24-hour hotline or directly contacted a "Safe Place" provider since its inception, including nearly 14,300 people last year, Ladig said.

Elsewhere, it exists in schools, libraries and YMCA locations, as well as at nearly 70 public transit agencies.

Here, it's largely geared toward teens and youths ages 15 to 20, because that is the age limit for Urban Peak's shelter. However, Kemppainen said her nonprofit will still try to help younger teens who try to utilize the program by connecting them to other services.

The program may be particularly useful for distressed teens who utilize the library for studying, its computers and for hanging out with friends, Bruno said.

"I think it of helping those kids already accessing the public library service, and needing somewhere to go after those doors close," she added.

But organizers want far more than the library district's regulars to utilize the program.

Distressed teens in the Pikes Peak region can text the word "SAFE" to 69866 to be directed by the National Safe Place Network to the nearest library.

Once that location is sent, teens also can reply "2Chat" to text with a mental health professional.

Since the line was established in 2009, it's received nearly 83,000 texts, including nearly 16,300 last year, Ladig said.

Now, teens here can access that same service.

"Every day youth come through our doors because they feel safe and respected," said Antonia Krupicka-Smith, the Library 21C's adult and teen services manager. "The library is a trusted community institution, and we're just going one step further with this impactful program."

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