By Arielle Dreher Herald Writer
EVERETT — It happens every day: Children are removed from dangerous or unhealthy homes, their belongings in a black garbage bag, with nowhere to go.
Too often, the kids have to ride around in a social worker’s car or sit in a Department of Social and Health Services office until a home is found for them.
But Safe Place offers a solution.
The program run by the nonprofit Hand in Hand provides a primarily volunteer-run shelter to house kids for up to 72 hours after they are removed from their homes by social workers.
Kim Neill has volunteered weekly at Safe Place for almost three years. She, like other volunteers, went through several training sessions before starting to work with the kids.
“We try to take their minds off of everything they have just been through,” Neill said. “Most of these kids have experienced very traumatic situations before they come to us so we allow them to just be children.”
When children first arrive at Safe Place, volunteers take them to a hospital for a health screening. Back at Safe Place the children are fed, cleaned up and given a comfortable place to sleep and feel safe.
The children are given new clothes and toys. They are taken on field trips to places like Imagine Children’s Museum and Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo who let the kids in for free.
“Every day kids are removed from their homes, and we have to turn them away because we don’t have enough volunteers,” Neill said.
In order to solve this problem, Safe Place is looking to expand to accommodate more kids every year. The nonprofit wants to add a bedroom to their facility. This small change will enable Safe Place to house six kids at a time instead of just four. That will allow them to serve at least 100 more kids a year.
“About 400 kids in Snohomish county will need Safe Place this year, and we will only be able to serve 250 kids,” said Todd McNeal, executive director and founder of Hand in Hand.
Safe Place is one of two programs for new foster kids that are run by Hand in Hand, which started in 2010. The other program is Selah Homes, Selah being a Hebrew word meaning “pause and rest,” McNeal said.
If a permanent foster home hasn’t been found after a child spends 72 hours at Safe Place, they can be sent to a Selah Home for 28 days. That gives social workers more time to find a home.
“If we can do a better job on the front end of the assessment, then the child will have a better chance at landing in a permanent home the first time,” McNeal said.
Safe Place started as a pilot program that is now the model for legislation to enable other emergency sanctuaries like it to be licensed across the state. A bill for the legislation was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on May 1. It was co-sponsored this year by state Reps. Mike Hope, R-Mill Creek and Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, and unanimously passed in both the House and Senate.
“Our goal is that next year other agencies can start this type of house in their own community,” McNeal said.
Hand in Hand needs donations to not only build the bedroom, but to also pay for daily needs, he said.
For anyone interested in volunteering, Neill leads a meeting at 7 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month. Even if a person cannot volunteer for longer shifts with kids, there are opportunities to make meals, help on field trips, or to help with clothing drives and fundraisers.
“It’s small, but we do a lot,” McNeal said. “We have a ways to go though, and we still need volunteers.”
Even the littlest donation or help from a volunteer can make a difference at Safe Place.
“As a Bible-believing Christian, I feel that I am supposed to take care of the widows and the orphans; making a difference for one child is what I can do,” Neill said.
Anyone interested in volunteering or donating supplies to Hand in Hand should go to handinhandkids.org.
Safe Place offers short-term housing for foster-care children. The program run by the nonprofit Hand In Hand needs volunteers, donations and supplies. A list of what can be used is posted the nonprofit’s website handinhandkids.org.