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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of November 7 - 13, 2001

  News

Organizers prepare 
Our Place
as a shelter for valleyís youth


"We are a refuge here. Itís truly a place for kids to come."

Eric Thomas, interim director of Our Place


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

Itís a hard learned fact that in this valley there are kids who are "couch surfing" rather than living at home.

A house in Hailey is being refurbished to use as a youth shelter called Our Place. Express photo by David N. Seelig

In order to deal with this situation, a loosely organized group of concerned citizens began making inquiries three years ago about creating a youth shelter. The task force included members of law enforcement, Health and Welfare, the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Hailey, Barge Levy of the Silver Creek Alternative School, St. Lukeís Wood River Medical Center, the Womenís Resource Center, and various other parents and counselors.

For three years, they have operated a fundraising effort under the umbrella of the Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence, until they received their own non-profit organization status.

That effort is finally coming to fruition as the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission has recently given the steering committee for Our Place a conditional use permit.

Our Place is now in a rental house on the corner of 1st Avenue and Walnut Street in Hailey. While it is a residential neighborhood, the Blaine County Sheriff and Court House are on the next block, itís near to the schools, and next door to the parish hall that serves St. Charles Catholic Church.

Helping to make the home ready for its December opening, the Emmanuel Episcopal Church made Our Place the object of its "Make a Difference Day" project on Oct 27.

Headed by Jean Girvan the group of helpers cleaned the house completely and painted the interior, with paint donated by Hailey Paint. They then furnished the house with comfortable couches, matching chairs, rugs, armoires, and kitchen utensils and supplies that had all been donated.

Silver Creek Supply donated the bath and shower units, and SPG Tile & Marble donated the tiling. Even the living room rug was cleaned gratis by Mr. Steam.

Acting as interim director is Eric Thomas, a former head master of Crater Lake, a therapeutic boarding school in Oregon. He also served several years with SUWS, a private intervention program in Shoshone, where he was a field supervisor and assistant director.

Thomas is in the process of getting the facility set up. He plans to be available for consulting, and will ultimately sit on an advisory committee. Meanwhile, a search process for a permanent director is under way. The amount of money raised will help determine how large the facility will ultimately be, and how many services will be offered.

"We will be focusing on reconciliation and mediation with the kids and families, and will act as a resource and referral service for youth in the valley," Thomas said.

"We will be the ultimate feasibility study" on how many youth need the facility since there is no real hard data on the number of homeless kids in the valley. Law enforcement estimate that there are between six and 10 youth "couchsurfing" on any given night. Part of the shelterís goal is to "find out what the true need is."

Our Place has two bedrooms and it will have no more than four kids in the house at a time. There will always be two staff members or volunteers in the house while kids are in residence. Its aim is to either reunify families or find an alternate safe home for a child within 72 hours to a week of the child leaving home.

Our Place will not act as a permanent home so much as a step between the original trouble spot and Health and Welfare, who come in if there are no other viable options.

Another aspect of its services will be to act as a support group for people who have taken in kids.

"Weíd offer support to that family, but placement would be independent of the facility." It will aid in mediation as needed and help outline expectations, for instance.

Funding has come from some generous private donations, $1,000 from the Rebekahs and a HUD grant.

Our Place held an open house Oct. 30 for those with an interest in the home, and in volunteering. About 20 people wandered around the home and then gathered in the comfortable front room to discuss particulars.

"We are a refuge here," Thomas said. "Itís truly a place for kids to come." He mentioned that just the night before it had come to his attention that a 13-year-old girl did not have a place to go. Our Place aims to be a "safe place where this child could have spent the night." He referred to the group of folks who spearheaded this homeís existence as a "small grass roots operation."

Thomas said that the house will be a place where kids may come and talk to an objective adult, who would listen to them, not as therapy but as a friend. But, he added, "As far as being a rec center? No."

Our Place is seeking volunteers to work in the home as house parents and as mentors. House parents will receive training that follows minimum foster care requirements with additional training on top of that.

To contact Thomas to volunteer or for advice or recommendations prior to the opening date, call him at 720 4296.

 


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.