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Hearts with a Mission shelter opens Monday

Hearts with a Mission, the new — and only — temporary residential care facility for homeless youths in Jackson County, will open Monday.

"Finally!" said Director Kevin Lamson. "Just to have that option now is a great gift to our community."

The shelter received its state license to operate on Dec. 9 after winding up its construction phase, thanks to a concerted community effort.

Beginning Monday, it will provide temporary emergency shelter to homeless youths age 10 to 17 at 521 Edwards St., Medford.

Youths can stay for up to 72 hours without parental consent and up to 120 days with consent, said Lamson.

From its well-stocked pantry to the copper rooster weather vane atop the yellow and gray home, the shelter is a declaration to local teens that they are cared about by their community, Lamson said.

"You can talk the talk, but until you walk the walk, it doesn't really count," Lamson said. "Now the kids know. They can look at this place and know. Why else would (we) build it?"

There will be no drug use, alcohol, weapons, sex or smoking allowed. Youths will be offered three meals a day and a safe place to stay, he said.

Noting that no other shelter in Jackson County can legally house homeless children unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, Lamson said more than 125 businesses and countless volunteers contributed to Hearts with a Mission, often exceeding Lamson's wildest expectations.

Forty local Lowe's Home Improvement employees on Thursday donated a day of their time and truckloads of materials to turn a dilapidated backyard shed into a first-rate storage unit, Lamson said. The employees also provided a porch swing, a barbecue and laundry racks in the main shelter, he added.

Remodeling on the house began in December 2008. But crews quickly discovered costly and unforeseen structural damage in the dilapidated building. Extensive work was needed to repair the foundation, something the fledgling group hadn't planned on.

The shelter's $200,000 federal block grant, awarded by the city on Sept. 12, 2008, was used to purchase the property. Another $240,000 in in-kind donations was committed to cover renovations, Lamson said.

The board has hired a manager and has begun adding 15 more part-time paid and volunteer staff members needed to run the shelter at capacity, he said.

Many homeless and at-risk youth do not link with services and agencies that can help. Others are a crime away from getting help. Some lose hope and turn to drugs and alcohol or end up in a life on the streets, he said.

Lamson said he plans on working closely with other youth services agencies such as Kids Unlimited, the Maslow Project and the police so that teens can stay in school and get into a stable living situation as quickly as possible.

"Our goal is to transition these kids back to their own family, or get them in with another healthy family," Lamson said.

Mary Ferrell, director of the Maslow Project, said she will coordinate with Hearts with a Mission to "create a continuum of care for our most at-risk youths."

Cari Dickson, forensic interviewer for the Children's Advocacy Center, recently performed training exercises for the shelter's new staff members and volunteers.

Dickson and other agency representatives discussed mandatory reporting of abuse issues, how to talk to a child if he or she reports abuse, how to recognize self-injury behavior and suicide risk assessment, she said.

"I have been very impressed with my meetings with Kevin and the staff," Dickson said. "I think this (shelter) is a great option for a lot of our youth."

To learn more about Hearts with a Mission, call 646-7385 or visit www.heartswithamission.org.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.