Valley’s light-rail call boxes aimed to help youths in crisis

[By Elisa Cordova Cronkite News ServiceMon Sep 23, 2013]

Valley’s light-rail call boxes aimed to help youths in crisis

Banished from home, Dion Austin, then 17, brushed his teeth at fast-food restaurants and slept in parks for three months before going to Avondale’s police station in hopes of starting a new life.

Someone there referred him to Safe Place, a national youth-outreach program that connected him with a crisis center. Austin now lives in a group home and has been attending college and working full-time.

“Because of Safe Place, I’m off the streets,” he said.

Now those in Austin’s situation can get help from Safe Place by using an emergency call box at any of Valley Metro’s 28 light-rail stations.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton joined Austin and others Sept. 18 at a news conference announcing the partnership. It extends a network that already includes many convenience stores, banks and libraries.

“In our city, in our Valley, there are no throwaway kids,” Stanton said at the Camelback and Central light-rail station. “We need to do everything we can to wrap our arms around our young people.”

A national program operated in the Valley by the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, Safe Place provides immediate assistance to young people who go to places that are part of the program.

Cynthia Schuler, CEO of the Tumbleweed Center, said 129 teens used Safe Place’s services last year, including those who faced family problems, were homeless or had run away from home. Adding Valley Metro to the program is a natural next step, she said.

“Now that we have this site, we expect that number to increase because they’ll have more access to Safe Place,” Schuler said.

Teens looking for the nearest Safe Place location can text their address to 69866 or call 866-723-3703 or 602-841-5799.

Austin’s journey to help took him from the Avondale police station in a taxi arranged by a nearby QuickTrip, which participates in Safe Place.

“That taxi ride was a lead to my success,” he said.

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