University Park Mall becomes a 'Safe Place' for teens


University Park Mall is a hot spot for teens. Now, those teens can get support there in a crisis.

This is a first for UP Mall's parent company, Simon Malls.

This addition makes 100 Safe Places in St. Joe County. The county Youth Services Bureau created the idea of 'Safe Places' to give kids a place to go if they're in trouble.

"It is an immediate connecting point for young people who might need help,” said Christina McGovern with YSB.

What better place than where they hang out with friends?

"When you look at the mall's position in our community, it's a large and popular destination socially and with friends and family it becomes a convenient and well known access point for these youth,” said Mall Manager, Ryan Ginty.

Ginty says University Park Mall had worked with the Youth Services Bureau for a number of years when the idea of a 'Safe Place' came up.

"It was just a clear and natural fit that we should become one,” he said.

McGovern says teens can be facing a lot of different crises.

"It could be that they're having a lot of problems at home. It could be as serious as abuse or neglect at home, there could be some drug or alcohol issues, it could be a communication problem between parents,” said McGovern.

But she says it can be hard to get teens to talk about those problems.

"Teens are generally not going to just come up and tell you what's going on,” McGovern said. “You have to be available to them and you have to do that on a regular basis to build trust.”

She says for Safe Places to work, getting the message out is important.

"We do a lot of education in the schools so young people who are enrolled in school will have gotten a presentation about, 'oh what does safe place mean?' they know that's someplace they can immediately get connected with help,” McGovern said.

That help could include temporary shelter, counseling, new clothes, or a hot meal.

"We're here, we want to be here and we want to help as many young people as possible. Sometimes, it's like ugh! I'm sorry that they need help! But we're glad that we can help and we're available to them,” she said.

McGovern says kids in crisis can stay at the Youth Services Bureau for up to 21 days.

She says after the crisis calms down the bureau is able to figure out the best way to help those kids out.

Last year, 47 teens used a Safe Place.

There are 99 other Safe Places are in St. Joseph County. Most are in South Bend, Mishawaka, and Granger.

But there are some scattered throughout the county.

The Safe Places include hospitals, police and fire stations, libraries, and businesses. See a full list in the file below:

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