The OUTreach Resource Center in Ogden sometimes hands a homeless youth a sleeping bag and sends them back outside. Rachel Peterson, the director of OUTreach, said she is excited that will soon change once the new youth homeless shelter is operating.
The new shelter, run by Youth Futures, is expected to open in January on a property on Adams Avenue. The property used to be a group home that Youth Futures purchased in August.
WSU student Kristen Mitchell, the founder of Youth Futures, says she began this plan six years ago, but the laws against harboring a minor made it impossible. The state Legislature revised the law last session, and now Mitchell is set to have the first youth homeless shelter in Ogden.
Mitchell wanted to set up a safe harbor for youths to come to if they become homeless, stating that youths can become homeless due to being kicked out of their homes, or leaving because it’s not safe. Mitchell says she will always try and work with the parents to reconcile first.
“They are very vulnerable, its (easy) for them to get caught in exploitation or trafficking,” Peterson said.
The OUTreach Resource Center is moving into the lower level of the building to continue their drop-in center, where homeless youths can pick up sleeping bags and other supplies. Peterson says this will allow them to be open five days a week instead of one and being in the same building as the shelter gives them a safe place to send the youths that come for help.
“I’m excited that I can just send them upstairs instead of having to send them back into the cold,” Peterson said.
Peterson estimates that somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the homeless youths in Utah are LGBT. With estimates of about 10 percent of the population identifying as gay, Peterson’s estimates are disproportionately high, but she added that because homeless youths are a hidden population, getting numbers can be hard.
Mitchell says education is the best way to get parents to accept their children for who they are. She also says it’s important for youths to understand where the parents are coming from as well. Mitchell, who has a transgender child of her own, says that she’s very accepting but it was still a transition.
Mitchell will accept homeless youths, and case managers and staff will provide them with the help they need to find a safe place to stay. The staff will also determine if it is possible to return youths to their families.
Peterson says sometimes parents kick their children out when they reveal that they are LGBTQ. Sometimes the situation gets so tense that the teen feels they have no choice but to leave. While technically a parent could be charged with child neglect for throwing a teen out on the street, in her five years of working with homeless youths, she has never seen it happen.
The shelter is currently being remodeled. Once the shelter receives final approval from the state it can start accepting youth into the shelter. Youth Futures is currently accepting donations with a wish list of needs available on their website. Students can also volunteer their time to the shelter as well.