The Sasha Bruce House is a sunny, airy house. It is the kind of place that invites you to relax and stay.
It is a temporary refuge from emotional storms - family problems that drive kids out of their homes, troubles in school, brushes with the law and the menaces that confront the young and troubled out on the streets.
"The Shasha Bruce House is as sweet as a flower," one of the 13-year-old residents had written on a hand-lettered and decorated piece of wood propped against a downstairs wall.
The shelter, a memorial to a young woman who committed suicide, was established in part by her mother Evangeline Bruce, wife of former Ambassador David K.E. Bruce. It opens officially today.
Evangeline Bruce's daughter Alexandra Bruce Michaelides, who was 29 when she died in November 1975, "was always concerned about youth in crisis and worked on their behalf," said her mother. When she was a student at Radcliffe, Michaelides worked for a group similar to the one that runs Bruce House.
"It seemed the most appropriate of all and her friends all seemed to agree," her mother said of the memorial.
"She's one of our best friends," said Debsorah Johnson, co-director of the Washington Streetwork Project, which runs the house. "Her greatest effort has been in moral support of what it is we are doing and thinking it is very important."
The project, which is funded by grants from the federal government and other sources, was able to buy the approximately $89,000 rowhouse with the assistance of a downpayment provided by Bruce. The house is at 701 Maryland Avenue NE, on the edge of Capitol Hill.
Although the formal opening is today, the house has been taking in children for about a month and a half. Last week 10 youths were staying there, some of them helping with the renovation of the former drugstore and doctor's office.
"At first I couldn't get used to it," said a 14-year-old boy who had helped paint the basement room that will be a library. "Then the counselors started talking to me, and they take me around to where I want to go. We have a good time," he said.
The house is a short-term facility for "youths experiencing some kind of crisis," said Deborah Johnson. The average stay is about a week and a half, with a three-week maximum (although some extensions are granted), she said.
Once a youngster is at the house, counselors arrange family conferences to help work out problems at home, refer the youngster and his family to other agencies that might help with long-term problems, provide legal counsel if the courts are involved and otherwise try to set things in motion for the period after the immediate crisis is over.
About 60 per cent of the youngsters come to the house on their own. The remainder are referred by the courts, schools or other agencies. Before the Streetwork Project had the house, volunteers took the youths into their homes.
If a youngster stays, parents must be contacted within 72 hours, Johnson said.
The youths set goals for revolving their problems while they are at the house and counselors, the youths and their families agree on a program for afterwards. Followup has been the program's weakest point so far, said Deborah Johnson.
The project tries to have from one to three family conferences after a youngster leaves and to follow up with phone calls. They try to stay in touch for three months afterwards, she said.
"There are too many kids. We can't get that involved with aftercare, and we don't see ourselves doing therapy," she said. In 1975, therre were an estimated 4,406 runaways in the metropolitan area, and there are five facilities similar to Bruce House.
Some of the youngster staying at the house last week included a 13-year-girl from the suburbs who said she came to the house after she saw a Streetworks project sign that said, "We help people."
"I just kind of ran into the place," said the girl. She had problems with her family and had been away from home one night with a friend.
Another girl said that her mother had reported her as a runaway, after she left the house in response to her mother telling her to get out. She had been in a shelter home and a receiving home before her lawyer got her placed at Bruce House. "Everybody is friendly and nice. It's just like one big family," said the girl, who said she had not seen her mother since March.