Porter County boasts more Safe Places
By Susan Emery
Times Correspondent September 23, 2010
WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | The Porter County
Sheriff's Department announced Wednesday it has joined a program that helps
youngsters who may be abused, neglected or homeless.
The national program provides children ages 6
to 18 with access to immediate help and resources through a network of sites
at agencies and businesses.
There are 36 sites in Porter County, including
YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, libraries and fire departments. Each site
displays the Safe Place yellow-and-black diamond-shaped logo. Children will
see the logo and know help is available.
Porter County Sheriff David Lain said the logo
will be placed on all
65 police squad cars. He said the program
supports department efforts to build a positive rapport with children.
"We think it's important for the sheriff's
department to reach out and develop another positive approach to youth,"
The program also gives officers another option
when called to a domestic disturbance involving a parent and child, said
Kathleen Marencik, coordinator of Alternative House, a temporary emergency
shelter for youth located in Gary's Miller neighborhood.
"There may be no arrestable offense, but
clearly there's an emotional one," Marencik said. "This is an opportunity to
have someone removed from the situation, but they're offered services as
opposed to a record."
Officers can refer youth for counseling to the
Crisis Center Inc. of Northwest Indiana, which administers Alternative House
and Safe Place programs.
Implemented in Lake County in 1987, Safe Place
expanded to Porter County in 2008.
Safe Place Program Coordinator Nikki Wielgos
said Chicago joined the list of cities with Safe Place programs last week.
She hopes public service announcements and visits to local schools will help
build the program in Porter County.
"I think we're seeing an increase in public
awareness," she said.
For more information about Safe Place, visit
Patrol cars offer safety to youngsters in trouble
September 23, 2010
Amy Lavalley, Post-Tribune Correspondent
VALPARAISO -- Porter County Sheriff's
Department patrol cars now sport yellow, diamond-shaped stickers to let
runaways and homeless youths know the cars are a safe place to go.
At a news conference at the Sheriff's
Department on Wednesday, Sheriff David Lain and representatives from the
Crisis Center Inc., a youth shelter in Gary's Miller section, kicked off the
initiative, the latest in an effort to create awareness about the Safe Place
The stickers turn the patrol cars into mobile
sites, so youths can be transported directly to the Crisis Center to receive
services, as well as making both young people and their families aware of
the services available if police are called during a domestic situation,
said Kathleen Marencik, coordinator of the Crisis Center's Alternative House
"Officers are paid to uphold the law. They're
not paid to be social workers," she said. "It's an opportunity to have
someone removed from the situation, but be offered services as opposed to a
Safe Place, which started nationwide in 1983
and began in Lake County in 1987, provides a place for vulnerable youths to
go when they need help. In Lake and Porter counties, those places include
fire departments, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, libraries and some banks and
Staff members at those places -- which have
the yellow stickers in a window -- can contact the Crisis Center, which will
send someone to pick up the child.
Shelter staff will do an assessment, contact
the youth's family and make service referrals as necessary, said Nikki
Wielgos, Safe Place coordinator for the Crisis Center.
Safe Place started in Porter County about a
year and a half ago, though Porter County is ahead of Lake County in
offering up its sheriff's vehicles for the program. About half of the
department's cars have the stickers, and all 65 of them will have the
stickers within a month.
"This is something Porter County is in the
vanguard of doing," Lain said.
The Crisis Center has 52 beds and serves
children age 6 through their 18th birthday. Marencik said 193 children used
the center's services last year, and the center has the capacity to assist
Porter County youths. Porter County does not have a shelter for homeless and
Only one Porter County youth has used a Safe
Place location here so far, but Gavin Mariano, spokesman for the Crisis
Center, said the county's program is still in its infancy.
"Having knowledge of that sign is the most
important part," he said.