GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – A nationwide call for more “safe places” for homeless teens in need of help may soon be answered in South Carolina.
Area QuikTrip stores are “TXT 4 HELP” locations that displaying signs with contact information that connects at-risk teens or human trafficking victims to the organization National Safe Place Network.
That’s a national outreach and prevention program for youth in crisis that has more than 20,000 locations across the U.S. displaying yellow and black Safe Place signs, the universal symbol of help and safety for all young people.
They partner with youth-friendly businesses and community organizations, such as fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and fire stations connect youth in crisis with the local licensed Safe Place agency.
7News has learned officials at National Safe Place Network are in final talks to designate Pendleton Place, a shelter in downtown Greenville, as it’s first Upstate partner.
Once plans are finalized, Pendleton Place will be the local place QuikTrip can call and within 30 minutes a caseworker will reach out to guide teens to the right resources.
Jed Dews, executive director at Pendleton Place, said he can see why “safe places” are needed and why they can be effective in reaching a segment of the homeless population that many times can be hard to reach.
“Suddenly you’ve got a response network that knows is this a law enforcement issue, is it a social service issue, and who locally can be there,” said Dews.
“I think youth go unnoticed a bit invisible in our community but they are absolutely there,” said Dews.
Dews said the need for more resources specific to teens in crisis in Greenville is huge.
He said Pendleton Place has been busy with its many community partners in preparing their campus to be equipped and ready to handle teenagers that may come their way via National Safe Place Network and QT.
“Homeless youth are typically very scarred by trauma. It’s a common theme with runaway and homeless youth,” said Dews.
QuikTrip employees have been trained for years in the proper way to handle worst-case scenarios like when a situation calls for law enforcement to be called or if someone simply needs a bite to eat.
At first, Greenville stores will be officially designated “safe places.”
Officials at National Safe Place Network are still searching for a Spartanburg area shelter partner.
Mike Thornbrugh, spokesperson for QuikTrip Corporation, said “we learned a long time ago we had a lot of kids coming in asking for assistance and we didn’t know what to do.”
National Safe Place Network officials couldn’t give a specific date for having the partnership with Pendleton Place up and running.
According to Safe Place, it began as an outreach program of the YMCA Shelter House in Louisville, Kentucky in 1983.
Access to emergency counseling and shelter for youth was identified as a community need and the YMCA Shelter House found a way to address this issue with the creation of the Safe Place program.
Here’s how it works:
-A young person enters a Safe Place location and asks for help.
-The site employee finds a comfortable place for the youth to wait while they call the local Safe Place licensed agency.
-Within 30 minutes or less, a Safe Place representative will arrive to talk with the youth and, if necessary, provide transportation to the shelter for counseling, support, a place to stay and/or other resources.
-Once at the Safe Place agency, counselors meet with the youth and provide support. Family Agency staff make sure the youth and their families receive the help and professional services they need.
More information on TXT 4 HELP:
TXT 4 HELP is a 24-hour, text-for-support service which provides access to immediate help and safety for teens.
Youth can text the word “SAFE” and their current location (address/city/state) to 4HELP (44357) and receive a message with the name and address of the closest Safe Place location, as well as the number for the local youth shelter agency.
Users also have the option to text interactively with a mental health professional for more help.
The service is free, but regular text messaging rates will apply to the user’s phone bill.