Three-year-old Kate lived in a dog crate in a meth house in Spokane and walked on hands and knees like an animal.
Winston lived in a home with no running water or electricity. He was so dirty it took four changes of bath water to get him clean. Nathan, 8, was almost starved to death by an abusive family.
They are just a few of the 1,645 children from Spokane County who have been placed at the Salvation Army’s Sally’s House, a place for children removed from dangerous circumstances with nowhere else to go. But now, state funding for Sally’s House is at risk.
The House Democrats’ budget, as well as Gov. Chris Gregoire, cut all state funding for receiving care centers, including Sally’s House, as part of an effort to close a $1.5 billion budget gap.
The Senate Democrats’ budget had $83,000 for receiving care centers and included instructions to the Children’s Administration and the Office of Financial Management not to cut funding for Sally’s House. However, Senate Republicans, along with three Democratic allies, voted over the weekend to scrap the Democrats’ budget in favor of their alternative plan, putting the funding further in doubt.
“We’re just hoping and praying it will all work out for the sake of the kids,” said Capt. Kyle Smith with the Salvation Army. “There’s a lot of different people that are worried.”
Some of the children who stay at Sally’s House have been abandoned, abused or neglected. Others are victims of domestic violence. Some lived with sex offenders or in drug houses, their parents arrested and hauled off to jail.
The commonality among all the children there: They need somewhere safe to stay.
“What we do down here is very beneficial for the children,” Smith said. “For our community, this is a vital service. It’s a very unique program.”
Staff members at Sally’s House work closely with social workers and provide services not available in a typical foster home, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she wasn’t familiar with Sally’s House until she toured the facility shortly before this year’s legislative session began.
“It was clear to me the community was completely on board, and I was really impressed with what they do at Sally’s House,” Brown said. “It’s one of those things that Spokane put together to fill the cracks, to keep children from falling through.”
Sally’s House was established in 2002. Before it opened, children were often shuffled around while they waited for Child Protective Services workers to find foster homes, “which further traumatizes them,” Smith said. Sally’s House helps minimize the number of placements children experience in the foster system.
“They hopefully just make one placement rather than several,” he said.
The 5,000-square-foot house has five bedrooms with four beds in each, a dining room, a playroom and a kid lounge. There is a preschool program for children up to age 5, and school-age children are transported to the schools they were attending before arriving at Sally’s House. They eat three meals a day and two snacks. They have the option to go to Sunday school.
“It’s a nice, friendly, warm place,” Smith said.
Regardless of what happens with the state funding, Smith said, Sally’s House is placing a heavier emphasis on private donations and grants.
“We’re going to do our best to raise money privately from this point forward,” he said. “The government funding is tough to get these days. We’d prefer if we didn’t have to go to the government, but right now, we do.”