Teens in trouble now have a new safe place where they can find help: City Hall.
The building is now officially a “Safe Place,” a haven for young people with no place to turn.
City Hall has joined a nationwide network of locations where people are trained to assist teenagers dealing with problems like homelessness or unsafe situations.
City youth services Jason Bartlett said he hopes to encourage more New Haven businesses and organizations to follow suit.
The new effort in City Hall is part of National Safe Place, an organization working to help young runaways. Under the national program, shops and restaurants and institutions agreee to be points of refuge where kids can go when they’re in a tight spot. Those locations put up large “Safe Place” signs. Teens in trouble know they can find help where they see those signs posted.
City Hall will soon have a “Safe Place” sign of its own, becoming one of 19,000 official locations nationwide.
In a second floor meeting room in City Hall one recent morning, Kathy Grega (pictured) of New Haven Youth Continuum trained members of the city’s youth department on what to do if a teen shows up in City Hall looking for help.
Grega showed a short instructional video, in which a teenaged girl steps into a White Castle with a “Safe Place” sign and finds help. A worker takes the girl into the back of the restaurant, gives her a place to sit and something to eat, takes some basic information, and then calls an organization to pick her up and take her to a shelter.
In New Haven, Youth Continuum will be that sheltering organization. Youth Continuum is a local not-for-profit that runs a number of group homes and works with homeless youth. The organization offers emergency shelter services to teens who don’t have a place to go.
Grega said Youth Continuum serves about 200 homeless young people each year. Many of them are not sleeping out under bridges, but “couch-surfing” and going to school. “They’re out there everyday,” she said. “We pass them on the street.”
City Hall will join the Boys and Girls Club on Columbus Avenue as a Safe Place in New Haven. The YMCA is also in the process of becoming a Safe Place.
Grega said City Hall is ideally located as a Safe Place, since it’s right downtown across from the Green. While teens won’t be able to find help there when City Hall is closed, they can get help 24-hours per day by texting “Safe” and their current location to 69866.
Friday’s training also included representatives from Yale and New Haven police, Catholic Charities, and probate court, all of whom are considering becoming Safe Places.
Bartlett said his “vision” is to create new Safe Places along New Haven’s major arteries, not only to help teens, but to make people aware of the problem of homeless youth in New Haven.
“I think this can spread across the city,” said Bartlett. He said he hopes to see “a lot of yellow Safe Place signs” in New Haven by the end of the year.