SPOKANE, Wash. - You can't blame neighbors for worrying about Excelsior runaways breaking into their cars and businesses, because it's happened.
But because Excelsior is a rehab center, not a juvenile hall, state law prohibits the staff there from using any kind of lock to keep these kids from leaving the campus.
At least 28% of Excelsior's clients are wards of the state. Kids taken away from their parents.
“The majority of participants in the child welfare program have experienced physical and sexual abuse,” said Andrew Hill, Excelsior Center. “In fact, that's a precursor to even being referred.”
Those “child welfare” kids have been betrayed by the very people who were supposed to protect them, so the youngster's best defense mechanism is to push away adults, including Excelsior's staff, and some of them run away from the facility and their problems.
On February 14th, an Excelsior runaway stabbed another young man at the Shadle Library. “I was on the phone to 911 and it moved within a minute or two to an actual knifing,” said Patricia Bonner, Library Manager.
The next day, while City Councilwoman Karen Stratton was here listening to the library's concerns about Excelsior, another urgent call for help.
“We were actually here for a meeting,” said Captain Dan Torok, Spokane Police Department. “And we were notified by library officials that there was a kid out front who had a gun.”
That kid, who was actually carrying a B.B. Gun, was also an excelsior runaway. Then, two days later, Torok said there were multiple juveniles at the library who were sick from having ingested some substance.
The back-to-back problems have put Excelsior on the Spokane Police Department's naughty list. But runaways represent only about 10% of the young people benefiting from Excelsior's programs.
“It's difficult to appreciate how challenged these kids have been in their lifetime,” said Dennis Hession, Excelsior Board of Directors.
Former Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession has been a non-paid member of Excelsior's Board of Directors for more than 30 years.
He says Excelsior's successes far out-weigh their failures.
“It's a place where you get fed well and you are clean and you have a nice place to live,” said Hession. “Even though it's a challenging environment, it is so safe and uplifting that these kids can have an opportunity to have some success and to thrive.”
100% of Excelsior's kids are suffering from mental health problems and Sean Moore was one of them.
“We just knew something was different and we knew he needed some help,” said Angela Moore, whose son was helped by Excelsior.
Sean suffers from Asperger Syndrome and until Sean was properly diagnosed, he went to jail and ultimately a 17 day stay at Sacred Heart's Psych Ward.
“It was the hardest time of our lives,” said Moore. “We felt we were losing our son.”
At any given moment, half of the kids in our emergency rooms are there because they are having a mental health crisis.
When they're released, often the safest place they can go for continued care is Excelsior.
“We give them the tools they need to divert from any further hospitalization first, then also build around those core competencies that are required for independent community-based living,” said Andrew Hill, Excelsior Youth Center.
One of Excelsior's five specialty programs is called Lifepoint, and Sean was Lifepoint's very first graduate.
“They were basically friends with their clients which was amazing,” said Moore.
Excelsior offers the same educational activities you'd find in most high schools.
At least 25 staff members have worked here for more than 25 years.
But the staff could use some more help.
Volunteers are needed to mentor these kids, teach them cooking or photography. Excelsior is especially interested in Spokane's sizable retired military community because these youngsters are fighting some pretty tough battles in their mind.
“It's more than Excelsior's responsibility, it's the community's responsibility,” said Hession.
And without help, these kids are the same ones who jump off of our bridges or fall prey to adults who exploit their vulnerability.
For some families, Excelsior has worked miracles.
“I look at this young man sitting next to me, and they said his life,” said Moore. “They gave us a sabbatical. We needed to heal and I got my son back, and I have nothing but good things to say about Excelsior and what they did for us.”
Excelsior is now asking the state legislature to amend the law that bars the facillity from holiding kids who want to run away.
We are expecting some pretty emotional testimony from critics and supporters of Excelsior when the youth center asks for a new special-use permit Thursday morning at Spokane City Hall.
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