For homeless youth on the street, each day forces hard choices, with risks seen and unseen.
Since 1999, Volunteers of America (VOA) has operated a daytime walk-in center, at 655 S. State St., where teens can clean up, get something to eat and access counseling and other services.
Donate to shelter
P Volunteers of America accepts donations at www.voaut.org or 801-363-9414
But after that, they’re on their own to find a place to sleep. That can mean camping, couch surfing and, often, throwing in with someone they don’t really know.
Many avoid adult homeless shelters because they fear encountering residents with mental health or drug problems.
That’s why the VOA wants to build a 30-bed emergency shelter for teens and adults younger than 23, said Kathy Bray, president of VOA-Utah. "We’re trying to create a safe alternative," she said.
On Wednesday, the Salt Lake City Planning Commission issued a conditional-use permit for such a facility at 888 S. 400 West. According to the proposal, VOA would move its existing facility to a two-story, 19,000-square-foot structure.
But the cost of the land, planning and construction comes in at about $6 million and VOA has raised only about a quarter of that amount.
Part of the funding — $500,000 — would come from a state grant made possible by legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy. A longtime homeless advocate, Eliason said homeless youth are "extremely vulnerable."
"The things they do to get by are things you don’t want to think about," he said.
It is important for VOA to coordinate efforts with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services and try to reunite runaway teens with their families, he said. "But there is a small percentage of them that are vulnerable in their own homes."
Artspace, the owner of the proposed site, had no intention of selling the land, said Jessica Noire, the organization’s executive director. Recently, Artspace built a mixed residential-commercial project in the area and had further plans for the land.
But when Noire learned what VOA had planned and that there was a lack of potential building sites, she took the youth shelter proposal to the Artspace board of directors, who approved the sale.
"What they are doing is incredible and needed in this community," Noire said of VOA. "Those kids have hopes and dreams and need to be in a neighborhood, not under a freeway."
The proposed VOA facility would provide meals and other services now offered at the State Street center. In addition, workers would identify the needs of each person in an effort to safeguard their ongoing welfare. That might include transitional housing, counseling, education and job training, Bray said.
Individuals can make donations to the project at www.voaut.org or by calling 801-363-9414.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.