These days, public transportation is about much more than moving people from point A to point B. Entrenched in our communities, transit systems enjoy a responsibility to the public they serve and provide a viable vehicle for community outreach. Louisville, Ky.-based Transit Authority of River City (TARC) is one agency stepping up to the plate, partnering with local shelters and nonprofits, offering those in crisis a ride to safety through programs like Safe Place.
National Safe Place is a network of youth shelters and partnering community agencies and businesses that serve as a resource for youth in crisis or at-risk. Local shelters utilize designated “safe places,” offering youth locations within their own neighborhood — including convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and fire stations – where they can access immediate help and safety. At any time, children can enter a participating safe place, ask for assistance and be connected with support and transportation to a local shelter.
The program began in Louisville through the local YMCA shelter for youth. Sandy Bowen, executive director of Safe Place, explained the program’s evolution: “There was some concern that kids did not always have a good way to get to the shelter if they had a crisis going on.”
Several years after the initial implementation, TARC and its president, Barry Barker, joined forces with the YMCA as its first mobile transit system. Today, Safe Place has a working relationship with APTA, and 43 of the 140 cities participating in the Safe Place program involve a local transit agency.
The program’s transit aspect works almost identically to the stationary safe places. A youth seeking Safe Place services can board the bus for free and request assistance. The bus driver would then radio dispatch to send a road supervisor who would intercept the bus and transport the youth to the shelter.
Bowen credits Barker, who has been personally involved in the Louisville community for years serving on various boards, with the program’s growth in the transit sector. “Barry and his staff served as consultants to other transit systems when they were making the decision to get involved with their local Safe Place programs,” Bowen said. “Essentially, they answer a lot of the initial questions and develop strategies for how these transit systems can successfully implement Safe Place and how they can operate [the program] within their transit systems.”
Bowen feels that local transit is a natural partner for Safe Place, and stressed its important role in the program, saying buses were secure and accessible places to go. “We made the choice to have mobile safe places because buses go to places where there are no fire stations or libraries or convenience stores, etc.,” said Bowen. “Buses, typically, are non-threatening places where youth are more likely to ask for help and many of the transit systems operate 24/7 or at least 12 hours a day, and we find that to be very helpful for our kids.”
As an offshoot of this program, TARC has developed and recently launched a new program called Safe Haven, which uses the Safe Place model to provide women who are trying to escape from an abusive situation transportation to the city’s Center for Women and Families.
Although it provides an invaluable service to the community, costs are negligible. Because the drivers do not provide counseling services, the training simply provides an opportunity for drivers to get to know the organization and ask questions. As far as cost, Barker claims the incremental cost for TARC is zero, since the youth transportation service has become an added responsibility of road supervisors already out on the road.
For more information about the National Safe Place program, visit the Website at, www.nationalsafeplace.org or contact Bowen for more details on partnership opportunities at (888) 290-7233 or via e-mail at Sbowen@nationalsafeplace.org.