COLUMBIA CITY — Programs that have been helping youth in Huntington County for more than 30 years are now being implemented in Whitley County.

Working together with local entities that are already in place, the Safe Place and Host Home programs provide immediate crisis intervention for youth ages 10-17.

Safe Place is a network of businesses that are trained and willing to promote their business as a Safe Place site. Host Homes are families that are trained to provide short-term housing for youth in crisis.

Safe Place is a national organization aimed at helping youth in rural, small communities to have quick access to services. The businesses display a yellow sign to indicate that they are a Safe Place, and agree to have an individual on each shift who is prepared to help youth in crisis.

Since the program began in the 1990s, it has evolved now that more children have their own cellphones. There is a hotline where children can call about their problems. In Huntington County, the service is commonly used as a suicide hotline.

“We cover a wide scope of issues, including running away, family issues, homelessness, human trafficking,” Jan Williams, executive director of the Youth Services Bureau of Huntington County, said.

Williams is heading up the program in Whitley County, and it has also expanded to Wabash County.

So far, six entities in Whitley County have agreed to be Safe Places, including the Whitley County Family YMCA, Peabody Public Library and Brew’Ha Coffee House.

Williams has been working with local judges, the Department of Child Services, the Bowen Center, and Whitley County Consolidated Schools.

“They felt this is a program they would love to have in the community,” Williams said.

Case managers help fill in the gaps of programs that are already in place, such as DCS.

“We’re another set of eyes and resources that aren’t within their services,” Williams said.

For example, a child may not be in an abusive home, but may not be getting along well with parents. The Department of Child Services would not have a need to investigate or make changes to the home.

“We can do things as another partner,” Williams said. “We don’t want to step on toes, but want to enhance what we already have and work on prevention.”

In several cases in Huntington County, Williams has seen youth struggling with substance abuse due to their own parents’ issues.

Rather than waiting until something serious happens, such as the youth making poor decisions, case managers take a more proactive approach.

“We want kids to call us first before they make choices that could affect or end their lives,” Williams said.

Like anyone else, case managers follow the same mandatory reporting laws as other citizens. If there is an abusive situation, DCS is notified. But there are other situations as well. A family may be encouraged to begin counseling at the Bowen Center, or a Host Home could be utilized in the interim.

Host Homes are families that volunteer to take in youth in crisis temporarily.

“They’re just opening up homes for kids in crisis,” Williams said.

If there’s turmoil in a family but no one is breaking the law, oftentimes there are no options for families to take a breather. Even after a stay in a host home, caseworkers provide case management at no cost to the families. Referrals can be made to address mental health issues and counseling.

“It gives the situation a neutral person,” Williams said.

Details are still being worked out on “how this will look in Whitley County,” Williams said, but the program is expected to be in place soon. Right now, the program will be focused more on the Columbia City area, but youth in need will never be turned away.

The Old Fort Motorcycle Club and Jingoes Club both contributed to get the program started in Whitley County. In previous years, it was primarily funded by a federal grant, but the grant guidelines recently changed, and the program is seeking out new funding. Those wishing to contributed should contact the Youth Services Bureau of Huntington, (260) 356-9681.