Supporters of My Friends Place seek to raise $50,000

By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writerMarch 16, 2013 

Supporters of My Friends Place are hoping to raise $50,000 in the next six months to help the fledgling shelter continue to serve homeless Tri-City teens until it can secure grants and contracts for a steady source of income.

Nonprofit Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery opened the shelter in Kennewick a little over a year ago and has housed 55 homeless teens since then. It was the first -- and only -- shelter of its kind in southeast Washington.

But board members told the Herald that opening the first-of-its-kind shelter presented a learning curve, especially when it came to figuring out the bureaucracy of various pots of money available to serve homeless teens.

They initially had grants from Benton County, but those recently expired, and the board hopes that a combination of volunteer elbow grease and community donations will shore up the shelter's finances until more grants come in or the shelter can earn state or federal contracts that pay the nonprofit to shelter homeless teens. The shelter's budget is about $150,000 per year.

Board members are optimistic about the future of My Friends Place, especially since bringing on Karen Kirk Brockman as executive director of Safe Harbor. Brockman previously worked for Benton County for 15 years running programs in the family court system, including the Court Appointed Special Advocate program and a guardianship program for adults with disabilities.

She and her sheriff's deputy husband also have been foster parents for 14 years.

Brockman told the Herald that her previous work experience means she has the relationships with social services agencies -- especially ones dealing with juveniles -- to find partnerships and secure contracts to help fund My Friends Place.

She also is talking to EPIC, the agency that formerly owned the building used by My Friends Place, about a new partnership.

"My goal is to increase the contracts with the state and county," she said.

Shelter supporters also are hoping to drum up volunteers to work in the shelter overnight and help reduce staff costs.

Board member Cliff Brown said the shelter has to have a male and a female on staff overnight, but if the shelter could pair up one unpaid volunteer with a paid staff member on each shift, that would cut costs in half.

And it would be a rewarding experience for the volunteers, he said.

"I would love to have some more people come stay the night. They'd get their own private room and get to meet these kids," Brown said.

Before My Friends Place opened, the only place teens on the street could go was the residential facility for at-risk youths operated by EPIC, but EPIC's shelter was designed as a secure place where police could bring runaway teens. Teens couldn't go there on their own without a police referral.

And EPIC closed in 2010 because of state budget cuts, leaving teens with no options at all except for couch surfing with friends, relatives or neighbors, or huddling someplace outdoors.

Safe Harbor and My Friends Place moved in to fill the void. They negotiated a lease with EPIC for its vacant building on Grant Place in Kennewick -- next-door to Safe Harbor -- and started working on getting a state license to operate a teen shelter.

The shelter has room for up to 16 homeless teens per night, and staff and volunteer mentors are there to help teens toward long-term stability, whether that's through family reconciliation, transitional housing, job training or referrals to mental health or chemical dependency treatment.

Donations can be sent to Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery, 1112 N. Grant Place, Kennewick, 99336, or go to http://crisis-nursery.org.

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