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Roseville’s Safe Place program offers help for runaways

Youth can access emergency shelter at local fire stations
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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All eight fire stations in Roseville offer safe havens for runaways, who can go there at any time, day or night.

But no child or teenager has ever taken advantage of this option and a group of people, including firefighters, police officers and a local resident, are trying to raise awareness about the city's Safe Place program.

Safe Place is a national outreach program that encourages kids not to run away while giving them a way to stay off the streets at various locations serving as emergency shelter. This could be libraries, convenience stores, YMCAs and other businesses or agencies. National Safe Place Week is March 18 to March 24.

In Roseville, fire stations - staffed around the clock - provide temporary shelter for youth in crisis. There, fire personnel assess the need for medical or law enforcement intervention and begin the process of securing support services for the runaway. Parents are informed that their child is safe.

Resident Larry Bergeron initiated the effort to publicize Roseville's Safe Place program by reaching out to Councilwoman Carol Garcia in late 2011. Bergeron has 14 years worth of experience working with at-risk children.

"I talk to high school students and ask the simple question: What would you do if your dad was beating on you? They say, 'Well, I would run away.' That's not the right answer. I want them to say, 'Fire Station No. 4,'" he said.

Runaways

Roseville has between 50 and 250 teen runaways a year. A handful of those run away from an unsafe situation, while most are running to a forbidden activity or a friend's house, said Beverly Gable, a therapist with Roseville Police, during a City Council meeting in December.

"They're running to the party parents said they couldn't go to, they're running to the boyfriend mom said they couldn't go to or their friend's house," Gable said. "They leave on Friday ... and come back Sunday."

Gable talked about the need to provide support services in both scenarios because the safety of the juvenile is at stake.

Several local options exist for children or families in crisis, including the Koinonia Crisis Resolution Center in Loomis that services Placer County. The Roseville Police Department is their No. 1 referring agency, Gable said.

This center provides 24/7 staffing to take in teens at all hours of the day. For instance, if a teen doesn't want to be in his home at 2 a.m. and his parents don't want him there, he can go to Koinonia free of charge and meet with a social worker.

Gable said the police department is concerned with runaways - even though running away isn't a crime - because "it's an indication there's some turbulence going on in the family."

This turbulence could be physical or sexual abuse, neglect or substance abuse in the home. Sometimes, a teen might need to escape an unsafe date or a drunk driver. They need someplace else to go immediately.

Children might feel their alternatives to escape are limited, so they'll go to a friend's house or leave town. Or they feel no choice but to stay.

"The abuser allows abuse to continue for survival's sake," Bergeron said.

Bergeron wants youth to turn to the Safe Place program. Roseville's fire stations each display bright yellow "Safe Place" decals, alerting youth that this is where they can get help.

"I think it's another tool, another resource," said Fire Marshal Jason Rizzi. "We need to have a multi-approach for the community's (youth)."

Educational outreach

Roseville's fire department plans to partner with schools to spread information about the Safe Place program.

"We'll ask, 'Do you know your local fire station is a Safe Place,' and we'll show the decal," Rizzi said.

Bergeron hopes this outreach will help make a difference in the lives of local youth.

"We need to empower and educate our adolescents and teenagers," Bergeron said. "They do have choices. They do not have to be victims."

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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TXT 4 HELP

What: Nationwide service offered by Safe Place to help teens connect to the closest location where they can get immediate help and safety

How it works: Text the word SAFE, along with your current location (address/city/state), to the number 69866. You will be texted back with the address of the nearest Safe Place and phone number.

Alternative: Call the National Runaway Switchboard Hotline at 1-800-Runaway

Info: www.nationalsafeplace.org