Salt Lake County works with national program to give teens in trouble a Safe Place

Posted at 9:39 PM, Mar 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-21 23:39:57-04

SALT LAKE CITY – Saturday marks the final night of Safe Place Week, which is an effort to provide youth between the ages of 8 and 17 who are in trouble with a safe place to stay.

Mike Varanakis, Salt Lake County Youth Services, said a yellow sign with the words “safe place” are what youth in trouble should be looking for.

"That's the symbol that youth recognize when they are going out and seeking help,” Varanakis said.

National Safe Place Week got its start in 1983, and 38 states take part. On a national level it is managed by the YMCA of greater Louisville, Kentucky and locally Salt Lake County Youth Services acts as a hub for 88 Safe Place sites.

It's open 24/7 and youth can enter on their own. They can also be referred by police or taken their by parents. And, new digital tools are making it easier for teens to connect with help.

“It’s a text for help program, and so what youth can do is they can text a short code, which is 69866, and with their location and where they're at and they can actually have a conversation with a person on the other line, and they can tell them where the closest Safe Place location is to where they're at,” Varanakis said.

There are Safe Places throughout the Salt Lake Valley, as youth services partners with libraries, fire stations, parks and recreation centers and other locations to provide safe spaces.

There are licensed therapists available on weekdays, and on weekend evenings. There is a 24-hour walk-in center for homeless youth, and youth and parents can get phone numbers of various agencies with resources they need.

Carolyn Hansen, clinical services director for Salt Lake County Youth Services, said they help give kids a place to go when things turn bad.

"Really, what we want to know is that the family dynamics are such that it's safe for the kids to go home and the parents feel like they have things enough under control that they can go home for the night or come back next week and meet with a therapist,” she said. “We want them to feel like there's something out there, that they're not the only ones going through this."

Safe Place helped about 50 youth in Utah last year, and more than 300,000 youth have been assisted nationwide since the program began 32 years ago.

Click the links below for more information on resources for youth:

National Safe Place

Salt Lake County Youth Services