The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority is expanding the Safe Place to include bus routes in Independence, Overland Park, and Kansas City, Kansas.
Arnetta Young, 55, has been a Kansas City bus operator for 20 years. Kansas City busses have been part of the national Safe Space program all that time.
At a press conference Tuesday, Young stood in the door of her shiny, red Max bus and told the story of helping two confused teenagers on her route one December night. She said the girls didn’t know where they were going and when she called the numbers they gave her she found they were disconnected. Her dispatch office told her to drop the girls off at the next stop.
“No. Send me the police. Send me the supervisor," she said. "I’m a mother and I’m a grandmother. And something didn’t sit right with me. Come to find out they were running away from a group home.”
Safe Place is a national program started in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1983 that provides resources for young people in moments of crisis, whether due to homelessness, domestic violence, or human trafficking. Designated Safe Place spaces are equipped with trained personnel and information about appropriate interventions.
The Kansas City area has 183 designated Safe Places at Quick Trips, libraries and YMCAs, said Karen Turner, a coordinator with Synergy Services, an agency that addresses youth and family violence. It provides training for employees of designated Safe Places and also responds to crisis calls.
“When someone calls the Safe Place hotline number they’ll be calling Synergy,” Turner said. “We’ll come out and assess the situation and navigate what resources they need. “
Turner said kids will often tell her there is not a Quick Trip in their neighborhood or places such as libraries close early. Bringing the program to more busses, she said, will help by allowing Synergy to serve more neighborhoods.
“The expansion is great,” she said. “It will allow us to help so many more youth.”
When a teen reaches out at a Safe Place, Turner said each case is different. Some involve domestic abuse and neglect. Others bullying or discrimination on the bases of race, sexual orientation or gender. Homelessness is frequently a factor.
Mayor David Alvey of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, said although the number of homeless youth is now declining in Wyandotte County, there were as many as 1,500 homeless teens over a recent two year period.
"I think (the Safe Place program) is a simple way to reach at-risk teens who may not find help elsewhere," Alvey said. "Expanding access to resources on busses in Wyandotte County is a good way for us to reach out and help them."
Robbie Makinen, President and CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, said the expansion is another indicator that public transit can be a critical link in community services.
“It’s that one thing that connects public safety, health care, the workforce to job access," he said. "So we’re very excited to be expanding the Safe Place program."