Kennewick teen shelter struggling to help

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMay 4, 2013 

KENNEWICK -- The boy likes art. Drawing, especially. He likes to find a meaningful quote, write it out in an elegant font, then fill in the space around it. A recent favorite is a line from a Shakespeare play about the weight and burden of responsibility.

The boy knows something about that.

He's been on his own -- at age 17-- for a few months, one of the hundreds of local youths who experience homelessness each year.

He found his way to My Friends Place, a shelter for youths ages 13 to 17 on North Grant Place in Kennewick. It's the only shelter of its kind in the region, and the teen said it's provided more than food, clothing and a place to stay.

"It's hard to be 17 without a job and no house, and having somewhere to come at night and knowing no matter what I have somewhere to sleep and somewhere to eat really puts my worries about all that on the back burner," he said last week. "This place is amazing."

The Herald agreed not to identify the boy to protect his privacy. He shared some of his story -- and provided a glimpse of what the shelter offers -- while perched on a stool at My Friends Place, waiting for one of the shelter workers to finish preparing dinner. The boy said My Friends Place has made a difference to him.

"I find it necessary," he told the Herald. "If this place wasn't here, I'd be out on the street."

The boy has been at the shelter for a couple of weeks and previously spent a month there. My Friends Place is licensed to hold up to 16 teens a night; on an average night, anywhere from three to eight beds are filled.

Other youths sometimes drop by for dinner but don't stay over, like another teen who showed up the night a Herald reporter was there.

"I just really like the concept of it. It's really nice. You know you have a place to stop by if you ever need it, shelter if you ever need it. A plate of food if you really want it," he said as he grabbed a plate.

The nonprofit Safe Harbor Support Center in Kennewick operates the shelter, which opened in fall 2011. Shelter supporters are trying to raise the shelter's profile in the community.

They also are trying to raise money.

As the Herald reported in March, finances are tight. Safe Harbor had two Benton County grants to help with facility and operations costs, but they've expired. Leaders said they're talking with county officials and hope to secure a new grant; they're also exploring other grant and funding possibilities and seeking donations.

It costs about $150,000 a year to run My Friends Place. Revenue from classes put on by Safe Harbor and the agency's Kennewick thrift store are helping keep it afloat; board members also have dipped into their own pocketbooks.

Mark Lee, president of Safe Harbor's board, said he's feeling encouraged.

He noted that Karen Kirk-Brockman, who became Safe Harbor's interim executive director a few months ago, brings skills and experience. She spent 15 years as program coordinator of Benton County Superior Court's Family Court Services.

Lee said transparency is increasing and "excitement is building as things are improving."

Like the 17-year-old who spoke with the Herald, Lee said the shelter's purpose goes beyond the physical needs it fulfills.

"It's not a bed, it's a relationship, a sense of home and a sense that someone cares," he told the Herald.

Staff and volunteers help the teens with everything from transitional housing to job searches. Teens must attend school or be working toward their high school equivalency degree to stay.

The 17-year-old is pursuing his, and he's making plans for the future that include attending Columbia Basin College in Pasco.

He talked a little about the family circumstances that brought him to homelessness.

He talked about his art, about the One Peace, One World art program started by one of the shelter workers.

He talked about his first night at the shelter.

He expected it to be weird, he said -- a new place, new people -- but it wasn't.

"They made me feel right at home," he said.

"To see so many people just come in and honestly have a passion for helping teens," he said, "I don't know, it kind of seems like this place saved my life, really."

Donations can be sent to 1111 N. Grant Place, Kennewick, WA 99336, or made online at www.crisis-nursery.org.

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