ST. GEORGE — Little more than one year after opening its doors in St. George, Youth Futures is helping local homeless teens find their place in the world.
More than a shelter, Youth Futures is a home for disadvantaged youth ages 12-18, who for whatever reason are left without a place to stay, said Program Manager Krista Whipple.
“We take in kids who are homeless, runaways, who have been kicked out of their homes,” Whipple said. “We have 16 overnight shelter beds and we also accept daytime drop-ins. Homeless youth do not actually have to live in our facility for them to have access to our services.”
According to Youth Futures, there is an estimated population of approximately 5,000 under the age of 18 who will experience homelessness in Utah every year, with about 1,000 youth identified as homeless in Washington County.
Youth Futures is the only program of its kind to serve the state’s underage homeless population, offering a suite of services. Along with its St. George location, the organization has an office in Ogden, Utah, which opened in 2015.
“If someone needs a safe place to stay, they can come here,” Whipple said. “It doesn’t look like a typical shelter; it’s just a house that raised two generations of teenagers before we opened our doors last October.”
The shelter is meant to be inviting and comfortable.
“The kids don’t have to stay, they can just drop in for the day,” Whipple said. “They can come for meals, showers, internet access and laundry. They can get case management help, and they can get access to therapy services, all for free. If they are struggling with depression or having thoughts about harming themselves, we have therapists available to talk to them.”
The shelter is funded through a variety of sources, including state and federal grants, private and corporate donations and fundraising activities.
Long term plans are to expend the Youth Futures program and open a transitional living facility serving adults age 18-22, but for now the focus in on the youth.
“The most common response I get from people when I tell them what I do is, ‘What, really, there are homeless people in St. George?’ becasue our homeless population isn’t all that visible on the streets, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We have a large and growing problem here.”
There is a silver lining to a bad situation, Whipple added.
“People’s initial reaction, she said, is one of shock. The next reaction is, what can they do to help?”
It’s not uncommon for local residents to show up with food and clothing, cleaning supplies and just about everything else required to keep the shelter’s doors open.
“It is definitely a community effort,” Whipple said.
Not all homeless sleep on the street. The most common method in dealing with homelessness is couch surfing or going from one friend’s couch to another, but this has its dangers.
“By couch surfing, the kids run the risk of being trafficked,” Whipple said. “They find someone who says, ‘Hey you can trust me, come home with me’ and find that they have to do something in return. Even with friends, they are often one argument away from being kicked out.”
The shelter works with children to keep them off the streets and away from couch surfing. Children at the shelter meet with a case manager once a week to set goals and work on whatever issues they are dealing with.
“Some kids come in after some family discourse where we get them in touch with a family therapist to make a plan and reunite them with their parents and send them home,” Whipple said. “Other kids come to us because they’ve been left in a situation where they really don’t have a place to go, they don’t have a family to return to or maybe going home isn’t safe or isn’t an option.”
For these children, Youth Futures offers the chance for a longer stay to work on things like employment, establishing a savings account and securing other housing options.
“It’s going to look different depending on the child,” Whipple said.
Offering its services to children is just the first start. Youth Futures’ long term goal is to expand the program and open a transitional living facility serving adults 18-22.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.