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A “Safe Place” to go

You may not know this, but last week was National Safe Place Week.

What is Safe Place? Safe Place is a national outreach and prevention program for young people in need of health, safety and shelter.

This community-based program, which originated in Louisville, Ky., designates businesses and organizations as Safe Place locations, making help readily available to youth in crisis in communities across the country. These locations include, but are not limited to, libraries, YMCAs, fire stations, public buses, various businesses and social service facilities.

Since the beginning of the Safe Place program in 1983, 159,867 young people have been connected to health and safety services at Safe Place locations; 173,549 young people have received counseling via phone as a result of Safe Place outreach; 132 Safe Place programs have spread the mission across to 41 states; 19,254 Safe Places have been developed in 1,417 communities; and 13,789,900 students learned about Safe Place through various presentations.

One Safe Place in Buffalo is Compass House, which became a Safe Place agency in 2006. Compass House serves males and females ages 12 through 17 from Buffalo and Erie County.

Compass House offers residential services and a resource center. The Resource Center provides teens with services including care management; individual, group and family counseling; food, cooking and laundry facilities; personal care supplies; clothing and household items, and group and recreational activities for 14- to 24-year-old males and females who are homeless or at the risk of being homeless.

Since it’s opening in 1972, Compass House has served more than 10,500 teens. In 2015, 98 percent of the young people served left Compass House to move to safe living arrangements and 300 youth were provided with 2,418 days of basic needs. Compass House’s 24-hour emergency hotline received 1,226 calls from youth in need.

“Everyone who comes to Compass House gets their basic needs met, and a case manger who works with them and their families,” said Lisa Freeman, the executive director of Compass House.

“Seventy percent of our youth have gone back home, and the rest went to foster care or transitional living.”

Freeman’s advice for kids who are struggling and don’t know where to go is to call the Compass House hotline. Teens don’t have to be afraid to call, she said. Compass House serves more than 300 youth each year, and they have seen it all.

A former client from Compass House named Mandy (her last name is being withheld for safety concerns) recalled her introduction to Compass House. Mandy’s mother had kicked her out the house, and she was homeless and living in dumpsters for awhile. One day, she walked into a church and met a woman who got her connected with Compass House.

Mandy admitted that she was scared and skeptical about Compass House at first, because she didn’t think that anyone would believe her story. Her first thought was to not tell anyone anything and to stay quiet, but her case manager eventually got her to slowly open up.

Mandy, who said she always felt comfortable at Compass House, is currently working there. She also has written a book about her experiences, called “No Peace in Silence.”

Compass House is located on Linwood Avenue in Buffalo. If you need to get there safely, you can go to your local Tops grocery store and they will take you there. All Tops stores in Erie and Monroe counties will be able to transport teens in need to Compass House.

Andrew Brocato, the director of public and communication relations for Tops Friendly Markets, said Tops became involved with Compass House to fulfill its “Neighbors helping Neighbors” philosophy.

Because Tops is a 24-hour-store, young people are able to get assistance whenever it is needed. Brocato said he wants people to know that Tops is a safe place to go when things are not going well at home.

Anyone needing immediate assistance from Compass House can either go to a local Tops grocery store, text “SAFE” and their current location (address-city-state) to 69866, or call the hotline at (716)-866-0935.

Cassandra Mihalczo is a junior at Sacred Heart Academy.