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Helping troubled youths find shelter Safe Place, a countywide program, will light the path to Compass House

Compass House has opened its Linwood Avenue shelter to troubled adolescents for more than three decades. But some youngsters who might need its services -- especially those living outside the city -- do not know about it or, if they do, lack the means to get there.

That problem was addressed Tuesday when Tops and Martins supermarkets teamed up with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to implement Safe Place, a countywide program designed to light the path to Compass House for runaway and homeless boys and girls ages 12 to 17.

Under the plan, a child in crisis anywhere in Erie County can seek temporary shelter at Tops or Martins stores or aboard a Metro Bus, all of which are designated "safe places." After making sure he or she is unharmed, the store manager or bus driver will contact Compass House, whose counselors will conduct an initial assessment over the telephone. If it is decided that the child should be taken in, a Safe Place volunteer will be dispatched to bring the child to the shelter at 370 Linwood Ave.

"Programs like this have problems getting the word out," said Sylvia H. Nadler, Compass House executive director. Up to now, children in troubled home or school settings usually learned about the agency from their peers or were referred by other counseling programs. Even so, the shelter has a high occupancy rate. More than 300 children stayed there in 2005, and more than 200 others were served through the agency's nonresidential Resource Center at 1451 Main St.

Depending on the nature and difficulty of a particular case, Compass House can provide shelter, meals and counseling for up to 30 days, as well as referral to 50 other agencies.

There will always be room for more under the agency's roof, said Nadler, who has worked for three years to link the national Safe Place volunteer network to Buffalo. The program will improve access to the emerging emergency shelter and counseling services primarily for youth living in suburban and rural communities, Nadler said.

"The big thing is transportation -- and outreach," she said.

Safe Place will be underwritten primarily by the John R. Oishei Foundation, which provided a three-year $190,000 grant. Other contributors include the Peter C. Cornell Trust, Josephine Goodyear Foundation, Children's Foundation of Erie County, M&T Bank Charitable Foundation, Zemsky Family Foundation and Wilson Greatbatch Technologies.

At a news conference announcing the program, Mayor Byron W. Brown and Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Lynn Marinelli declared Tuesday Safe Place Day in the county.


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