by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n the front window of Brian Goetz's State Farm Insurance office in north Coeur d'Alene sits a diamond-shaped yellow-and-black sign with the words "Safe Place" over a symbol of a child enclosed safely within a building.
"If a young person needs to come to my office for some reason, a dog chasing them or some kids threatening them, I'll certainly take them in," says Goetz. "I have plenty of room for them to sit and call their parents or do their homework."
Goetz's business is one of more than 80 places in Kootenai County that are a part of Project Safe Place, a nationwide program that uses community sites as temporary shelters for young people in trouble. Most are private businesses or homes, but several public buildings, such as libraries, fire stations and the Project Safe Place shelter in downtown Coeur d'Alene, also display the yellow-and-black signs.
"If there's a life-threatening situation, the people at the site can call 9-1-1," says Laurel Kelly from Volunteers of America (VOA), which oversees the project here. "If it's something less urgent, the people there can call us and we can send transportation to pick up the child."
Five years ago, says VOA Executive Director Marilee Roloff, "we noticed kids from Coeur d'Alene coming here to go to Crosswalk (VOA's downtown Spokane youth shelter) because we had a place where they could stay and access the child welfare system. So we went looking for a partner that could keep Coeur d'Alene's kids there."
Roloff says VOA imported the Project Safe Place model from Louisville, Kentucky and "went to the schools to make presentations that told kids that if they're in trouble, go to one of those safe places."
Roloff and Kelly say the temporary shelters aren't doing a booming business, taking in only a handful of kids each of the first few years the project has been going. "But we find, through anecdotes, that it gives kids the message that we care about you and that we'll take responsibility for you."
"They approached me and showed me what the program was all about," says Goetz. "As the parent of three young children, I loved what it stood for."
Now VOA is preparing to bring Project Safe Place to Spokane, looking for businesses that are willing to serve as temporary shelters. "We'll probably start with a bank," says Kelly. VOA trainers provide prospective businesses with a short orientation session. "It's a simple way for a business to take action. We think Spokane will be very open to this."