In an average year, some six dozen school-aged children in Jessamine County have been kicked out of their homes or simply run away, according to Jessica Dodgen, district homeless liaison with Jessamine County Schools.
And because there is no shelter in Jessamine County, many times, those children find themselves out on the street or bouncing from place to place.
But through the efforts of the 2011-2012 class of Leadership Jessamine County, those children now have another place to go — a Safe Place.
“The Safe Place program is a national youth outreach program that is focused on providing a safe location and safe adults for youth to access within their community when they are in trouble,” Dodgen, a class member, said.
LJC class members began brainstorming in September 2011 while on a two-day retreat. They wanted to leave a lasting mark in Jessamine County, Dodgen said.
“The goal is to put Safe Place locations throughout the county — covering it,” Dodgen said. “So ideally, you could walk or find a short ride to a Safe Place location.”
The reasons youth access Safe Place locations are many, including being kicked out of home, problem with their peers, running away, riding with an unsafe driver and being in an unsafe situation.
According to the website nationalsafeplace.org, “They also leave home to escape abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol abuse by family members, or because they’re told to leave. Sometimes, youth feel that they don’t belong, and leaving home is often not a choice they want to make. Yet, national agencies estimate that between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away from home each year.”
When a youth walks into a Safe Place location, they let the people at the location know that they need help.
From there, the plan is put into action, Dodgen said.
“At that time, the Safe Place site would welcome the youth and give them a safe, comfortable place to wait,” she said. “They may offer them something to eat or drink. We ask that the Safe Place sites not ask a bunch of information; the only thing they’re supposed to ask is if the youth is in any danger. If they are, then the Safe Place site calls law enforcement.”
From there, Safe Place personnel contacts MASH Services of the Bluegrass in Lexington.
“It’s an emergency drop-in shelter — a fully staffed facility with youth counselors,” Dodgen said.
“Someone from that agency would come to the Safe Place site to meet with the youth, and make a safety plan from there.
MASH workers will determine if the state needs to be called in to review the situation.
While there are 12 sites in the county, Dodgen said if other businesses or organizations wish to participate in the program, they would be welcome.
All that is required is a yearly training session with a representative from MASH, which lasts about an hour, and there is a small fee to have a yellow and black sign placed in the window of the business.
Interested organizations can call Dodgen at 859-881-7108.