My Friends Place shelter means 'hope' to teen

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldNovember 2, 2013 

Several touching messages are scrawled inside a journal at My Friends Place in Kennewick.

Teens staying there use the blank pages to pour out their feelings about the shelter.

"My Friends Place means to me another place I can call home," one youth wrote.

"It means hope to me. Something to trust and a feeling of belonging," wrote another. "Without these feelings life is dull, so what My Friends Place does for me is priceless in my eyes."

The homeless shelter for youths ages 13 to 17 is operated by the nonprofit Safe Harbor Support Center.

After a rocky several months financially, officials say the shelter now is on more stable footing, although community donations and support still are needed.

"We're moving ahead ... I think we're really taking off," said Karen Kirk-Brockman, who became Safe Harbor's interim executive director earlier this year.

The shelter is on the verge of approval for nearly $19,000 in state Consolidated Homeless Grant dollars for the second part of this year. The money comes through the Benton-Franklin human services department, and Benton County commissioners already have signed off on a contract. The pact should go to Franklin County commissioners soon.

Safe Harbor leaders also are hopeful about securing other money through human services to help with facility work and operations in the coming months, and they plan to go after more Consolidated Homeless Grant funds for next year.

They'll also continue to look for community support. It costs about $150,000 a year to run My Friends Place, and as much as half comes from the community.

Safe Harbor's biggest fundraiser of the year -- the annual Beggars Banquet -- is coming up this month. The Nov. 15 event at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick includes music, shopping, live and silent auctions and a Best Soup contest.

My Friends Place opened in 2011. It's recently seen between five and eight youths a night.

The teens must be in school or working toward their high school equivalency, and shelter workers help them with everything from job to transitional housing searches, officials have said.

Kirk-Brockman said My Friends Place may open next year to 18- and 19-year-olds who still are in high school. They'd stay in a separate part of the shelter on North Grant Place.

My Friends Place is the first shelter of its kind in the region.

It seems to be well-received among its young charges.

While chatting at the shelter on a recent morning, Kirk-Brockman showed the journal filled with neat, hand-written messages from teens.

"I was lost. I needed help. I had no home, no one I could go to (until) I found My Friends Place," one teen wrote, adding that the shelter provided more than food and a place to sleep. Shelter workers "have given me a ride to places I need to go and helped me find the resources I need to get back up on my feet and get the education I need and help provide me with a job ... Thank you so much for everything you guys have done."

For more information on the Beggars Banquet, go to www.tinyurl.com/BeggarsBanquet2013.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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