Safe Place, unique place for homeless children, expands

EVERETT — More newly homeless children will have a safe place to go in Snohomish County until they can be placed in foster homes.

Safe Place, an Everett shelter for children younger than 12, is dedicating a newly remodeled space Saturday. The improvements will enable the nonprofit shelter to house six children at any one time instead of four, and will greatly increase the operation’s storage space.

The organization of seven paid staff and 100 volunteers currently feeds, bathes, clothes and houses about 350 children per year in its 3,000-square foot space along E. Casino Road, administrator Debra Albrecht said.

The state removes the children from homes that have been raided for drug activity or where they were abused or neglected. The shelter is licensed to house the kids for 72 hours until social workers can place them in foster homes.

Safe Place is the only shelter of its kind in the state, according to executive director Todd McNeal. It’s the only one that temporarily houses children under 12, including infants, he said.

Safe Place’s umbrella organization, Hand in Hand, also operates Selah Homes, a network of temporary foster homes where kids may go for 28 days following their time at Safe Place. Hand in Hand also loans and leases space to several nonprofit, social service groups.

In most cases, when children are taken from homes, a social worker drives around with them and makes calls until places are found for them, Albrecht said.

The new space will enable Safe Place to take in about 100 more kids over the course of a year.

The group also needed more room to store donated food, clothing, toys and other supplies. Previously, items were stacked in bins and boxes along walls and on the few shelves and cabinets that were available. There were no cupboards in the kitchen, Albrecht said.

Now there are new cabinets throughout the building.

“Eighty percent of this project was utilizing our current square footage more effectively,” she said.

The space also was spruced up with new flooring, paint, and two TVs for the lounge area. The four creaky metal bunks in the original childrens’ bedroom were replaced with solid wooden ones. Two new bunks were added to another space.

The organization started a fundraising effort earlier this year and by September had raised $118,000, officials said. Major contributors included $40,000 from an anonymous donor through Mill Creek Foursquare Church; $37,500 from the Longbrake Family Foundation of Seattle, and $17,500 from the Medina Foundation, also of Seattle. Much of the rest came from individuals through social media, Albrecht said.

The group got another boost in May when Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law new rules for shelters such as Safe Place. Under the old rules, the shelter was issued a permit to operate as an “emergency respite center.” Technically, the license was for shelter only and the law was silent on the other aspects of the group’s service.

By feeding and clothing the children and providing medical care when needed, the group was living on the edge of its legal authority, Albrecht said.

“We were dancing,” she said.

The Safe Place staff reached out to legislators, and Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, and others took up the cause.

They prepared a bill that broadens the scope of the group’s abilities, allowing them to fully care for the children for the 72 hours. When the organization gets its new license, it will be for “assessment and receiving care.”

“It’s good for the community, it’s good for Snohomish County and the Everett area and it would have cost a lot more if the state had tried to do something like this,” Hope said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

More info

For more information about Safe Place or Hand in Hand, go to www.handinhandkids.org, call 425-374-2461 or email info@handinhandkids.org.

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