Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
Dec 28th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Lighting Up

ae_blue1Blue Light Safety Project offers shelter but raises questions

Imagine walking down a dark street flickering with shadows. Or worse, imagine that you are being pursued by someone unsafe on that same dark street. Now picture a halo of blue light glowing from a nearby porch. Imagine that this blue light signifies a safe place to stop, make a phone call—or perhaps even share a meal or stay for the night.

If it sounds comforting to know that there are safe houses where you can seek refuge in your neighborhood, that’s exactly what organizers of the Blue Light Safety Project intend. The idea is simple: anyone can install a blue bulb in their porch light bulb socket and this will let neighbors, community members or passersby know that they are welcome to knock on the door if they feel threatened or unsafe.

Conceived by a local organization, the Police Obsolescence Working Group, the project came out of community safety meetings held to brainstorm ideas in making Santa Cruz a safer place outside of institutional forms of policing.

“Many community groups are focused on police and crime,” says Wes Modes, a collective member of the project. “This is a different project because we’re giving community (members) tools they can use themselves to keep the community safer.”

Besides blue light bulbs, which can be acquired at the hardware store or through the project’s website (bluelightsafety.blogspot.com), project organizers recommend that blue light hosts place a sign in their front yard to let potential visitors know the type of “service” they offer. Whereas some blue light hosts may be comfortable with offering a bed and a hot meal, others may be comfortable with merely offering their porch as a resting place. Hosts may also map their homes on the project website so people in need can more easily find them.

“Our vision is that every neighborhood will have several blue light houses so you’ll always have a safe place to go,” says Modes, who imagines potential guests ranging from women or youth walking alone at night to homosexual or trans-gender people who’ve been threatened, as well as victims of domestic violence fleeing abusive situations.

“Sometimes people don’t feel safe calling the cops because they don’t agree with the repercussions that will happen,” explains Kristen Swig, one of Santa Cruz’s inaugural blue light house hosts. “If you simply need a safe space, I think it’s really positive that my house can provide that temporary place.”

ae_blue2Though the Blue Light Safety Project is well-intended, spokespeople from some local social service organizations have concerns about how safe the project actually is. Because the project is intentionally a decentralized, do-it-yourself venture operating outside of any formalized institution, there is no vetting procedure of hosts, no background checks and no special training program.

“I love the idea of people helping people and creating a safe place in our community, but if there’s no screening process and no background check, it leaves people vulnerable,” says Cristie Clemens, director of the domestic violence program at Walnut Avenue Women’s Center.

“I wouldn’t send a survivor to a blue light house without knowing the people providing the service,” she adds, explaining that survivors of domestic violence are already vulnerable and tend to be re-victimized so she wouldn’t want to put them at risk.

Bill McCabe, director of Youth Services at the Santa Cruz Community Counseling Center, agrees. “The whole idea of engaging the community to take care of the community is what we want to cultivate,” he says. “But if you’re running programs for vulnerable people and you are not doing background checks on (hosts), then you haven’t done all the steps necessary to make a safe place. There is a tendency for the predator and the vulnerable to find each other. That’s just the way our psyches work. Because of that tendency, you really want to mitigate.”

In addition, McCabe explains that the vulnerability of youths and adolescents is another issue that needs to be considered carefully in this project.

“Youth are particularly vulnerable and teenaged youth are likely to be out there without their guardian’s knowledge of where they are,” he says. “If you take a teen into your home and aren’t going to contact the guardian directly, you’re going to get yourself into problems. If you’re taking in youth, you’re taking in someone’s child.”

In response to the question of how the project will deal with underage visitors, Modes assures that blue light hosts would encourage youths to call their parents or guardians. He adds, “With certain people we probably have more responsibility to get them to a safe place.”

Because a blue light house is intended to be merely a temporary safe space—not a long-term shelter—the objective of this project is to provide immediate safety and then direct people to a place where they can find a more permanent solution.

Still, Modes recognizes that there is no guarantee that just because a blue light is shining on the porch the house will be safe. But because blue light locations aren’t anonymous, he maintains that if anyone uses a blue light inappropriately the community would soon become aware and the offender would quickly be made accountable.

The question seems obvious: Rather than dealing with a potentially dangerous situation after the fact, why not prevent it by having some sort of screening process for blue light hosts? In response, Modes says that this type of procedural organization would counter the overall philosophy of the project.

“We want people to run with this and go where they want to take it,” he says, explaining that instilling a vetting procedure “diminishes the possibilities in a project like this where people are taking control of their own lives.”

Modes adds, “We want this to change how people feel about safety and community. We rely on institutions to make choices for us. It’s a revolutionary idea that people can take responsibility for safety in their communities.”

McCabe suggests that some of this empowerment could come from a training program that would help blue light hosts feel better prepared to deal with the situations they’re likely to face.

“You’re strengthening their good will by giving them support and training,” he says. “I don’t know if people are (otherwise) fully equipped to handle all the situations that will show up at their doorstep.” He gives the example of a drug addict coming down from a methamphetamine high at two in the morning. Or the abused girlfriend with her abusive boyfriend 10 minutes behind her.

Clemens agrees that an adequately trained host can better meet the needs of his or her guests. She advises that prospective hosts ask themselves, “Are you really capable of managing someone with serious mental health issues that may come knocking on your door?”

She does applaud the project organizers for addressing the issue of setting boundaries for guests—however, her work with people in crisis has proven that setting boundaries and keeping them are two different things.

“When you’re working for someone in need, it can be difficult to hold those boundaries,” she says. “What might seem like a simple situation can turn into a longer case management plan.”

“It’s a good idea, but there are a lot of complications to think about,” says McCabe, outlining what he sees as next steps to making this project something that the wider community will embrace. “They need to do background checks on the hosts, make sure they are trained and get really clear on exactly what they are offering people.”


For more information, visit bluelightsafety.blogspot.com
Comments (2)Add Comment
...
written by Danae Winters, October 21, 2011
Yeah, I understand the concept and do appreciate how much they're trying to do for people by offering safe houses, but I just don't think the safety aspect of it was really thought out. If you feel unsafe outside, why is walking into a total strangers house - one beckoning you to come on in, due to a darkened porch light - going to be any safer? And how to those offering to be a safe house know they're not letting in someone who's of ill intent, or perhaps dangerously, violently mentally ill? There really does have to be some other way of making sure the safe houses are REALLY safe - otherwise it just defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it?
...
written by faye augustine, October 20, 2011
I've had blue lights on for a couple years...just for night lighting and fun. I'm a little concerned that strangers might be knocking on my door unannounced with problems. How do I know they are sincere and not trying to harm me? If you are really going to adopt this blue light special...you need to have informed and trained people. I had the blue light first...maybe you can choose another color? The concept is nice, but I'm not so sure if it will be safe on either side of the door.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Dancing In the Rain

District Attorney Bob Lee’s death in October stunned the Santa Cruz community, but he had battled cancer fiercely—and privately—for more than a decade. Now one of his closest friends reveals the remarkable inside story

 

Our Gifts - Fiery Sacrificial Lights to One Another

Wednesday is Christmas Eve, Hanukkah ends and the Moon is in Aquarius, calling for the new world to take shape at midnight. Thursday morning, the sun, at the Tropic of Capricorn, begins moving northward. The desire currents are stilled. A great benediction of spiritual force (Capricorn’s Rays 1, 3, 7) streams into Earth. Temple bells ring out. The heavens bend low; the Earth is lifted up to the Light. Angels and Archangels chant, “On Earth, peace, goodwill to all.” As these forces stream into the Earth they assume long swirling lines of light, in the likeness of the Madonna and Child. The holy child is born. Let our hearts be “impressed” with and hold this picture, especially because Christmas may be difficult this year. Christmas Day is void of course moon (v/c moon), which means we may feel somewhat disconnected from one another. It’s difficult to connect in a v/c moon. Try anyway. Mercury joins Pluto in Capricorn. Uh oh … we don’t bring up the past containing any dark and difficult issues. We are to attempt new ways of communicating—expressing aspirations and love for one another, replacing wounding, sadness, lostness, and hurts of the past. Play soothing music, pray together, have the intention for peace, harmony and goodwill. Don’t be surprised if things feel out of control and/or arguments arise. We remember, before a new harmony emerges, chaos and crisis come first to clear the air. We are to be the harmonizers. Christmas evening is more harmonious, less difficult, more of what Christmas should be— radiations of love, sharing, kindness, compassion and care. Sunday, Feast Day of the Holy Family, is surprising. Wednesday is New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2014. Taurus moon, a stabilizing energy, ushers in the New Year. Happy New Year, everyone! Peace to everyone. Let us realize we are gifts radiating diamond light to one another. Living sacrificial flames!

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Let My People Go

There’s a lot to like in Ridley Scott’s maligned ‘Exodus’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Best Bites of 2014

A look back at the year in good taste

 

What downtown business is good for both one-stop shopping and last-minute gifts?

The Homeless Garden Project store. Because it is a community effort and has really useful and beautiful things, and allows you to connect with a lot of folks who are doing great work in Santa Cruz. Miriam Greenberg, Santa Cruz, UCSC Professor

 

Vino Tabi Winery

One of Santa Cruz’s most happening areas to go wine tasting is in the westside’s Swift Street Courtyard complex. Ever since a group of about a dozen wineries got together and formed Surf City Vintners (SCV), the place has been a hive of activity, and a wine-tasting mecca. Adding to the mix is the lively Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing beer company—making Swift Street Courtyard a perfect spot for a glass of wine or a pitcher of ale.

 

Betty’s Eat Inn

Yes, she’s a real person; no, this isn’t her