Editor Note: This is part of an ongoing series that highlights unique community partnerships that Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (Fresno EOC) and its various programs have throughout Fresno County and the impact that these collaboratives have on peoples’ lives through the region.
Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (Fresno EOC) has many unique partnerships in the community. One program that has an incredible breadth and depth in its relationships in the community is Fresno EOC Safe Place, which has 271 partner locations in Fresno County. The program operates under the Fresno EOC Sanctuary umbrella and provides access to immediate help and supportive resources for youth in crisis. As a community initiative Safe Place designates schools, businesses, and other youth friendly organizations as “Safe Place” locations, which display the yellow and black sign. Youth can text “Safe” and their current location (street, city, zip) to 69866. Major partners include Fresno Area Express (FAX) Public Transportation, select Walmart stores, Fresno Unified School District and many more. Fresno EOC Safe Place has received all eight of awards bestowed by the National Safe Place organization over the last 20 years. Joe Martinez, Fresno EOC Safe Place Program Manager, said that he believes the honors are a recognition of the strength and depth of the community partnerships to support the program and the passion of the people who work in it on a daily basis.
The National Safe Place has an impressive reach as there are 138 Safe Place Programs serving 1,450 communities across America in 37 states. Fresno EOC Safe Place and others across the country are celebrating National Safe Place Week, which occurred March 19-25 this year. Fresno EOC Safe Place had a partner recognition breakfast to build and strengthen community awareness of the program on March 20th.
As part of that focus on community partners in the Safe Place program, Martinez thought it was important to highlight one of the newer Safe Place partners, the Fresno LGBT Community Center is a part of a private, non-profit organization and is operated as the only center serving LGBT community in Central California (between Bakersfield and Stockton) by an all unpaid volunteer center staff and board of directors members. As a Safe Place site partner, the center works with Fresno EOC Safe Place program to provide free incentive items for outreach efforts, allows staff to print flyers on agency printers with the Safe Place logo, provides LGBT resources and informational brochures for youth outreach, and provides volunteer hours to transport troubled youth to the local youth shelter.
Additionally, the Fresno LGBT Community Center:
- Assisted with planning and promotions of various Safe Place outreach events to coincide with National Runaway Prevention Month held annually held during the month of November.
- Participated in a proclamation of Fresno LGBT Community Center as a Safe Place site with Fresno city and county elected officials in November 2013 to increase awareness about homelessness among LGBT youth locally and nationally.
- Served as a co-facilitator in the dedication of the Fresno LGBT Community Center as Fresno's 268th Safe Place site during National Prevention Month in November 2013.
- Supported local Safe Place program efforts during National Safe Place Week by promoting Fresno LGBT Community Center as a designated Safe Place to local and diverse youth.
- Assisted in the development and promotion of a Safe Place advertisement during Fresno’s LGBT Pride Parade and Festival held in June 2014. The advertisement promoted the designation of Fresno LGBT Community Resource Center as a Safe Place site targeting LGBT youth.
- Promotes Safe Place designation of Fresno LBGT Community Center on their agency website targeting LGBT persons, their families, friends and supporters as primary project of Gay Central Valley. Promotes Safe Place logo on agency newsletter and other printed outreach materials targeting homeless, runaway and street youth.
- Mentors Fresno EOC Sanctuary Safe Place and Street Outreach to the Streets (SOS) program staff with its program operations and activities to incorporate language appropriateness, cultural sensitivity, and understanding of the complexities of all youth including youth who may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning/queer (LGBTQ).
Because of that strong partnership, Martinez nominated the Fresno LGBT Community Center for the Outstanding Community Site Partner Award of Excellence sponsored by the National Safe Place Organization and the organizations are looking for ways to increase their working partnership. One of the reasons Martinez believes this is so important is that a 2015 study done by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law and the True Colors Foundation, found 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT).
By comparison LGBT youth represent an estimated 7% of the total youth population, so these numbers are disproportionately high and show that LGBT youth are nearly six times more likely to experience homelessness than other youth.
Martinez, who has been with Fresno EOC for 25 years, believes that while even a single young person without a home is one too many, the disparity of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness is unacceptable and partners like the Fresno LGBT Community Center are critical to serving this vulnerable and underserved population. According to the National Safe Place Network, Joe Martinez, is the longest-serving Safe Place Coordinator in the nation.