January 28, 2009 in City

State may close teen runaway centers

Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer

Spokane’s center for teenage runaways could close this year if the Legislature agrees to cuts proposed by the Department of Social and Health Services.

Nine centers in nine cities, including Wenatchee, Yakima and Kennewick, would close by July under the proposal, saving $9.4 million in the 2009-’11 budget. Spokane’s center costs about $370,000 a year.

It’s the largest single proposed cut in Children’s Administration, part of DSHS. The centers serve about 3,000 teens a year and were created in 2000 as part of the “Becca Bill” – named for a 13-year-old runaway murdered in Spokane – which allows the state to temporarily hold runaways.

Instead of incarceration, police can take runaways to the center, which provides food, clothing and mental health services and helps teens reconnect with their families.

“It’s essentially a lifeboat for these young people when they’re not doing a good job taking care of themselves,” said Tim Smith, executive director of Daybreak Youth Services, which operates the city’s Secure Crisis Residential Center. “When it’s gone, it’s not like someone’s going to pick up the slack elsewhere in the community.”

Without a place for runaways, jail or juvenile detention may be the youths’ only option, “and none of those places are appropriate for them,” said Kathy Kramer, Daybreak’s development director.

The centers were considered expendable in a tight budget climate for several reasons, said Glenn Kuper, spokesman for the state Office of Financial Management.

The program does not receive federal matching dollars, and Kuper said alternatives are available.

While the loss of the centers would be “unfortunate,” said Randy Hart, interim assistant secretary of Children’s Administration, “these are very difficult times and tough decisions have to be made.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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