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Originally published October 14, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified October 15, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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Longtime Seattle youth center faces closure without shot of cash

A longtime center for homeless and struggling youth is on the verge of closing unless it gets a fast infusion of cash.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Information

Seattle Foundation:

http://bit.ly/Oy9O0J

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The homeless shelters Jaclyn Mellon started dipping into as a 12-year-old runaway from Spokane offered the basics: food, a roof and clean socks.

But the unconditional love an abusive, drug-addicted father didn't give her? The moral support she needed to get off drugs and get an education? Or just the feeling of safety?

Mellon, now 27, said she didn't get any of that until she found a Seattle day center for homeless and struggling youth at age 14. It was called Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS).

Mellon says her teenage years were full of stupid mistakes, but the center always welcomed her during her darkest hours, and it eventually lifted her from years of drug abuse.

"I can honestly say this place saved my life," said Mellon, who now works there.

Now staff, volunteers and struggling youth who use the 18-year-old center on Capitol Hill are desperately trying to raise enough money by Wednesday to keep it from permanently closing.

If they can get enough in donations to last until the end of the month, the center may have enough breathing room to find grants to keep it going, according to Bryan Baker, PSKS development director.

Donations of more than $70,000 the center could usually count on didn't come through this year, Baker said. Funding for the center, which serves hundreds of youth annually, hit a wall this year, says Elaine Simons, executive director and co-founder.

"The economy is not getting better; it's getting worse," she said. "We've got more demand and less supply."

The center provides a unique kind of support to homeless youth, who are often scared of being sent back to abusive families or re-entering a foster-care system they've had enough of, Simons said.

Between July and September, Simons said 137 individual youth used the center.

Although young people who use the PSKS center can't spend the night there, during the day they find safety and an opportunity to heal. There's food to converse over, corners in which to create and exhibit art, and college-preparatory classes.

Many shelters and social-service programs turn away youth who are not sober, who have mental-health issues or who simply have a pet, but PSKS welcomes youth who need help no matter what shape they're in, Mellon said. The only thing required is they do something to improve the surrounding community, she said.

As photos strung together on many of the center's walls show, the young people it serves have come together to advocate for legislative change and better funding of the social services they depend upon. They also hold "Donut Dialogues" with the Seattle Police Department to help discuss police-training policies.

"At PSKS, they tell you, you have a voice, you have a story to share, and how to use it," Mellon said. "We learned how to go to Olympia and speak for ourselves to adults who, many times, actually ended up listening to us."

Simons said she co-founded the center at her home along with about 15 students she was teaching at the James W. Ray Orion Center, another center for homeless and at-risk youth in Seattle.

PSKS steadily expanded, moving into a garage space, then into offices in Queen Anne and Capitol Hill and finally to 1814 Summit Ave., where it's been for nine years. That whole time, Simons said, she's never had to pay rent late.

More than $8,000 has poured in since Thursday, when PSKS released an emergency news release pleading for donations. But Simons said quite a bit more must be in hand by Wednesday.

A Thursday board meeting will likely determine whether the center, which costs about $18,000 a month to run, will close or not, she said.

Mellon and Simons say losing their jobs at the center is the least of their concerns.

"I'm afraid for the people who depend on us," Mellon said. "PSKS is where people come when every other agency rejects them. I don't know what's going to happen to them."

Donations to the center can be made through The Seattle Foundation website.

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.

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