DENVER — As students head back to school this fall, the cities of Denver and Aurora plan to bring back the Safe Zones program to help keep teens and preteens safe outside of the classroom.
Safe Zones launched last year during a time when there was as spike in youth violence and they served as spaces where events and activities would be held during what police departments consider high-crime times.
“In response to youth violence and some gun violence that we were experiencing last year, we sat down with youth and asked them what they wanted and they said they wanted a safe place just to hang out,” said Shana Shaw, executive director of the nonprofit Compound of Compassion.
According to Denver Health, an average of 700 young people, age 25 years old or younger in Denver are affected by gun violence every year.
The cities of Denver and Aurora partnered with local nonprofits like Compound of Compassion to create Safe Zones and gave funding to organizations that were willing to host them.
This year, the funding structure is changing. Instead of giving organizations money upfront, Aurora and Denver will reimburse the nonprofits for their expenses.
But Shaw said some nonprofits won't be able to host events without already having the extra funding in place.
“The resources really have to be placed with the organizations that are out here doing the work without some of the red tape that gets put into place,” Shaw said.
Shaw said because of the funding structure, as the demand for Safe Zones increases, fewer organizations are willing to host them.
“As Safe Zones have evolved, they've become wellness tool boxes throughout the city for kids to create life skills on how to deal with conflict resolution, and how to deal with stress management,” Shaw said.
Shaw said the cities of Denver and Aurora reported a reduction in crime when safe zones were hosted last year.
Shaw said to build off of those positive results, she hopes the cities reconsider the funding structure so that more nonprofits can get involved and help keep kids safe.