Funding sought for homeless youth transitional facility

After receiving an $830,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Volunteers of America are pushing forward with plans to open a transitional facility for homeless young men, said Zach Bale, vice president of external relations for VOA. The plan would open a facility similar to one that exists in the city that is available to young women, he said.

“We’ve been working on this project since we merged with another group in 1999 and began making the services available to Utahns,” Bale said. “This really is a big priority for us, and there is definitely a need.”

Youth that identify as queer make up about 42 percent of homeless youth in Utah, according to a recent survey at the Salt Lake City homeless youth center. In contrast, about 8 percent of Salt Lake City’s population identifies openly as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The grant comes after working for more than a decade to provide these services, and the facility will be made available to young men, age 18 to 24. While there are a variety of other services offered and managed by the VOA, this particular unit will be focused on helping to provide the transitional stage of moving off the street. This will include employment counseling and other services to help young men transition into a more stable environment, Bale said.

However, in addition to the grant, to complete the plans, the VOA will need to raise $500,000 through private donations and through local governments, he said. Currently the VOA is in talks with city and county governments to obtain that funding, but private donations are also accepted, he said.

Helping to provide a more stable environment for homeless and runaway youth should be an important priority in Utah, he said.

Recently there were some changes to Utah law that allows for a more manageable approach to helping runaway youth that are under the age of 18. Before the change in the law in 2006, runaway youth could not stay overnight in a facility or someone else’s home without a parent’s approval.

The new law states that a runaway youth can be sheltered if a few provisional steps are followed. First, within eight hours of harboring the youth either a guardian or the Salt Lake County Division of Youth Services must be notified, Pat Berckman, director of the center said. The 24-hour hotline number is 385-468-4500. After the report is made, the legal parents or guardians will be notified of the youth’s whereabouts.

“This process is not meant to be punitive,” Berckman said. “We help provide information and services about all the options available to help the youth. It’s important to know all the different options and services available and we try to help with all of that.”

Reporting the youth and other procedures do not stop individuals or youth shelters from providing services and shelter, Berckman said.

“When we find out about runaway youth, we like to make a plan to help them in every way possible,” Berckman said.

For more information about the transitional facility or to make a donation, go to VOAUT.org.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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