ST. GEORGE – The ribbon was cut on Washington County’s first youth homeless shelter Friday afternoon, bringing a much-needed resource for the hundreds of homeless youth estimated to be living in the county.
“This has come together to change the lives of these kids,” said Kristen Mitchell, executive director and co-founder of Youth Futures Utah. The nonprofit group has operated a youth shelter in Ogden since 2015 and chose to expand services to St. George last year.
The shelter, located at 240 E. Tabernacle Street, is a 5,500 square foot, 16-bed facility that provides emergency temporary housing for youth ages 12-17 and non-emancipated 18-year-olds. It also offers daytime services that include case management, showers, daily meals, therapy, support and a connection to community resources.
“Where our facility is different from other facilities is we are working toward keeping the kids out of the juvenile court system and out of state custody,” Mitchell said.
The youth who the shelter serves may have been kicked out of their home, run away or come from homeless families, Mitchell said. Some youth find themselves “couch surfing,” spending the night in different homes where possible.
For situations where the youth has been separated from family, Mitchell said Youth Futures’ primary goal is to reunite them.
Having a place the youth can go and get support soon after they find themselves in a homeless situation is also important, Mitchell said, as within 48 hours of becoming homeless the youth can become swept up in drug, labor or sex trafficking.
“We want to keep them out of those systems,” she said.
As tears were shed prior to the ceremonial ribbon-cutting on the steps of the youth center, Mitchell, along with Youth Futures board chair and fellow co-founder Scott Catuccio, shared how they decided where to expand the nonprofit’s services since the youth shelter in Ogden was doing well and aiding many youths in northern Utah.
Twenty minutes after they decided on St. George, Mitchel received a call from Mike Carr, the homeless liaison for the Washington County School District.
Carr said his primary responsibility is to help make sure that youth in homeless situations have their basic needs met and that they are on an “equal footing” with their peers at school. Unfortunately, resources for such youth were greatly limited.
If a school counselor told Carr a student ran away from or was kicked out of home, there wasn’t much he could do due to laws that prevented him from placing homeless youth with families that were willing to house them. Instead, Carr said the school district would supply a youth with a sleeping bag and recommended possibly staying with a friend.
While the school district is limited in what it can do, Carr learned a nonprofit wouldn’t be subject to similar restrictions, so he began searching for one that would meet the county’s needs. That is when he contacted Youth Futures.
“It was meant to be,” Mitchell said.
“You can’t put a price tag on the value of it,” Carr said, “We’ve needed a shelter for youth for quite a long time. … Now we can let these kids know we have a place (they) can stay.”
When students don’t have to worry about being homeless or wonder where their next meal is coming from, Carr said they do better in school.
The Washington County School District estimates there are over 700 homeless youth in the county. Statewide, it is estimated that 5,000 youth experience homelessness for at least one night a year.
Youth Futures made plans to expand to St. George and purchased the home and adjacent property on Tabernacle Street in January 2018. The conversion of the home into a shelter is the first phase of a two-phase project with a total estimated cost of $2.86 million.
The second phase of the project is expected to launch in 2019 and will focus on the construction of transitional housing for young adults 18 to 20 years old.
The first phase of the project is 92 percent funded at $1.2 million, with $108,000 remaining as of Friday. The second phase is estimated to cost around $1.5 million.
The nonprofit is funded through a mix of private, state and federal donations and grants.
Additional information on the Youth Futures project in St. George can be found here.
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