Youths in crisis can get connected to resources at a newly designated “safe place” under a program launched Monday in the city of Santa Maria.
A ceremony Monday in front of the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center marked the addition of Santa Maria among communities included in the National Safe Places Network.
“I think about when I was a kid and you always thought the safe place was home,” Mayor Alice Patino said Monday.
But home isn’t necessarily safe for many youths, she said, adding they need to be provided resources along with hope.
“I an very proud today to help designate this as a Safe Place Network,” Patino said.
The ceremony marked the designation of the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, 600 S. McClelland St., as the first local Safe Place site.
“Unfortunately, we do have homes where things happen. The young people don’t feel safe in their own homes so they leave and at that point they’re the most vulnerable,” said Edwin Weaver, executive director of Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley.
Often this leads youngsters to fall into the gang lifestyle or become victims of human traffickers.
“So the last place we want them is on the street,” Weaver said. “We want them in a safe place.”
The Youth Center won’t be the only safe place site if leaders have their way.
Plans in the next 12 to 24 months call for designating the Santa Maria Public Library, city fire stations, the Boys & Girls Club, Santa Maria Valley YMCA and even local businesses as future safe places for youths.
“It’s got amazing potential,” Recreation Services Manager Dennis Smitherman said.
Some cities have declared bus lines as safe places so youths in peril can seek help from a driver, he said.
Few communities in California — only eight per the group’s website — have implemented the Safe Place Program.
“It’s really surprising to see how few of these there are considering it’s a service that just seems to fit with a lot of cities,” he added.
Santa Maria will offer the only Safe Place Program in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.
During business hours, a youth in need can enter the Youth Center, where employees would assess the situation and determine if the youth is in immediate danger.
“That really decides how we handle the situation,” Smitherman said.
If the danger is urgent, police would be notified. For other matters, Fighting Back representatives would be summoned to help connect the youths with appropriate services, including taking them to Noah’s Anchorage, a youth crisis shelter in Santa Barbara.
After hours, youths can text “safe” and their current location (address, city, state) to 4HELP (44357) or click here to find their nearest location.