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At 17 years old, a young girl is transitioning from child to young adult and living with her father. Her mother lives out of state. In discovering her identity, independence and values, she struggles to fully grow within the restrictions put in place by her father. She and her father get into arguments often, some that include threats to kick her out of the house. One day, she decides to leave.
This is a real story from a young woman who came into Safe Place. I had the pleasure and honor to serve my second Public Allies term at UMOM New Day Centers as the Safe Place outreach and education assistant. With a mission to prevent and end homelessness with innovative strategies and housing solutions that meet the unique needs of each family and individual, UMOM’s Safe Place program served 114 homeless and runaway youth in 2017.
My journey with UMOM originally began in my 2016 term when I was matched to serve in the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development. Tumbleweed programs, including Safe Place, luckily transitioned under UMOM once Tumbleweed filed for bankruptcy.
I ended my first Public Allies term at the beginning of the transition, and I began my second term during the ending of the transitioning period. Throughout the organization’s changes, I worked in three different programs, serving in three different positions and I learned that although change can be frustrating, upsetting and uncomfortable, change is natural and necessary - especially within the nonprofit sector. With my recent experience working in Tumbleweed, I believe I was the perfect Ally to be placed in the Safe Place program.
There were organizational changes every week, but with my strengths in flexibility, patience and ambition, I was able to onboard smoothly and dive into outreach facilitation within the first couple of weeks. I learned that outreach to spread awareness of Safe Place is highly important because with the absence of Tumbleweed, the community assumed that all previous Tumbleweed programs were no longer operating. Once people learned that the youth programs, specifically Safe Place, were still in operation under UMOM, they were happy and relieved, but also had a sense of sadness telling me “I wish I would have known Safe Place was still running- I knew a kid who needed a place to stay.”
Safe Place’s impact is vital to the community. Safe Place provides immediate assistance and shelter to youth 12-17 years old experiencing homelessness, abuse, or have run away in Maricopa County. There is no wait time, which is unique when compared to other homeless shelters in the area. Safe Place provides intervention and prevention for youth and families experiencing difficulties like abuse, homelessness and trafficking. Look into the Youth Experiences Survey (YES) report and you will learn of the risk factors of young folks living without shelter. The survey is of homeless runaway young adults 18-25 years old and the correlation with sex trafficking. 199 people were surveyed and some results were:
- 33.2 percent reported they have been sex trafficked
- 19 percent reported their family’s home was an unsafe environment
- 51 percent reported being kicked out by their family; the reason being for sexual orientation (5.5 percent), gender identity (2 percent), poverty (16.1 percent), and family conflict (31.7 percent)
- 26.6 percent reported being sexually abused before the age of 18 years old
In 2017, 45.5 percent of Safe Place youth reported the source of their problem as family conflict and 11.4 percent reported their home being an unsafe environment. The existence of Safe Place not only fulfills youth’s basic needs, but also helps prevent youth from the experiences of homeless young adults. They and their families receive a chance to reconcile their differences and work on their relationship just as the young woman I mentioned at the beginning did. I have fully enjoyed my work with UMOM and will always continue to educate adults and youth of Safe Place so that no teenager feels they need to struggle alone.
Cynthia Gonzalez was part of Public Allies' Class 12. She was placed at UMOM New Day Centers as a Safe Place Outreach and Education Assistant. Public Allies Arizona is a 10-month apprenticeship program designed to develop the next generation of civic leaders.