Hele-On Bus Offers Safe Places Program for Distressed Hawaii Island Youth

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The Hele-On bus on the island of Hawaii helps children and young adults get to safe places or help them with trouble through a new partnership with the National Safe Place Network.

Hawaii County’s Mass Transit is just the latest transit partner to get involved.

“Young people are in trouble, they’re going to one of the Hele-On buses for treatment, say they need a safe place,” said County Transit Administrator John Andoh. ‘Hawaii. “The driver will contact the dispatcher or the dispatcher will contact a social services agency or the district attorney’s office – they have a runaway youth program.”

Help will come for children and young adults who voluntarily ask for it. The program, which trains drivers to also spot young people in distress, should not disturb other users, since help will arrive along the bus route.

“They, in turn, will meet the young people somewhere along the road and connect them with the resources they need,” Andoh said.

With the suspension of Hele-On bus fares for the next two years, Andoh hopes this will further encourage people to seek help.

“I think kids kind of get pulled in when they run away to get on the bus and go anywhere,” Andoh said.

The nonprofit National Safe Place Network has been around since the 1980s, providing outreach and prevention services to young people. There are over 22,000 safe places across the country.

“The Safe Place Network model is based on the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, and the more we can connect our children to our village resources and support our families, the better the outcomes for young people” , said Judith Clark, executive director of the Hawaiʻi Youth Services Network.

Clark said the creation of this program in the state began nearly a decade ago.

“In 2013, at the Children and Youth Summit, they heard about a new report that had come out about the disproportionate contact of minors with the juvenile justice system,” Clark said.

The young people involved said they needed physical places.

“They said we needed safe places to go before we got in trouble with the law for things like running away from home or skipping school,” Clark recalled.

So Clark presented state legislators with the Safe Places model. She is an informal advisor to Hele-On’s own program and sits on the National Safe Places Advisory Board.

Clark said it’s similar to the state’s Youth Safe Places pilot project that passed the state Legislature this year.

“I took the opportunity to share the national Safe Place model with the Keiki Caucus members and community resource members who participate,” Clark said. “This is the first time that there was a bill to establish the pilot project of safe places for young people. And similar bills were introduced every year until about 2019.

A program like this is important to the state’s continuum of care for children.

“We hope this is the first step to implementing the Safe Place program across our state,” Clark said.

To get the word out to children, the program has connected with nonprofits and added decals to buses advertising the anonymous service.

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