Tumbleweed Center, Valley Metro Create Safe Places for Homeless Youth
In a partnership with the nonprofit Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, the city has designated all 900 of its Valley Metro buses as Safe Places, an expansion of the national Safe Places program that previously designated 35 light rail stations as Safe Places The buses travel more than 100 routes that run across about 512 square miles.
“This is a huge expansion of places that young people in crisis can go and get help,” said Paula Adkins, interim CEO for Phoenix-based Tumbleweed. “The whole idea of the Safe Place program is exactly that — to provide young people who are in a crisis, a place they can go that’s safe. The can go anywhere they see the safe place sign.”
To officially mark the occasion, Valley Metro representatives and city leaders gathered in late November to place the yellow and black Safe Place decals on all the buses. Safe Places serves children ages 12-17 nationwide.
Ann Glaser, a spokeswoman for Valley Metro, explained how Safe Place works. “A teen in crisis can ask the bus operator for help. The bus driver then contacts our operations team, which contacts the Safe Place crisis line operated by Tumbleweed. Tumbleweed then will send a responder to the teen.”
She said bus operators already are trained for any number of potential emergency situations that can arise on city bus routes, but that specific Safe Place training is now part of the ongoing training for Valley Metro bus operators. “They are receiving training on how to interact with teens.”
Adkins said Tumbleweed has been in partnership with Safe Place for more than a decade. In a typical year, she said about 200 youth seek help through the Safe Place program.
“We take them to one of our program sites to meet with a case worker to help them with the crisis,” Adkins said. “That can be anything from something fairly simple to something very complex. We determine the nature of the crisis and if it’s safe to contact family.”
She said that in about 90-95 percent of the cases, Tumbleweed is able to reach out to family and try to reunite the youth. However, in some cases that is not possible. For example, some teens run because they are not safe in their homes, or their families are not accessible. In those cases, the state’s child services department is contacted for assistance.
“Even we don’t have to contact DCS, there may have been something happen within the family that the family and the young person really are not ready to get back together again. The young person might stay with us for a time while we work on restoring the relationship.”
Adkins said Tumbleweed case workers also may continue providing support after the child returns home.
Tumbleweed was started in 1975 by a Phoenix chapter of Soroptimist International, a global women’s organization with more than 75,000 clubs worldwide. Tumbleweed assists youth ages 12 to 25 throughout Maricopa County by providing a safe environment as well as emergency shelter, counseling and other support services.
As a nonprofit, the organization relies on community support to meet the needs of teens. Tumbleweed maintains an ongoing wish list on its web site for items such a nonperishable food, toiletries, clothing and more. Tumbleweed currently is seeking holiday gift donations. Contact email@example.com for more information on how you can help.