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Salt Lake County’s renovated runaway homeless facility hopes to keep youth on the ‘right path’

Runaway Homeless Youth Program Facility, County Mayor Jenny Wilson and County Youth Services Director Carolyn Hansen, Aug. 11, 2022
Ivana Martinez
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson joined Salt Lake County Youth Services Director Carolyn Hansen to cut the red ribbon on the newly renovated Runaway Homeless Youth Program Facility, Aug. 11, 2022.

The renovation of the Runaway Homeless Youth Program Facility in South Salt Lake has been in the works for a couple of years. Now, it’s finally open and ready to serve runaways and youth experiencing homelessness from ages 8 to 17.

The facility has high wooden ceilings and murals of Utah landscapes on its walls. Light streams through the large window on the south end of the building illuminating the community area that’s filled with couches, tables, TVs, game consoles and books.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson joined Salt Lake County Youth Services Director Carolyn Hansen to celebrate the grand opening Thursday morning.

The program aims to provide a safe, trauma-informed and home-like environment that can house youth for up to 21 days. Youth Services has four beds in the building. Minors who come to the facility can expect to receive hygiene kits and clothes when they arrive.

It’s funded by a grant from the federal Administration on Children, Youth and Families and the Family and Youth Services Bureau.

Runaway Homeless Youth Program Facility, youth room, Aug. 11, 2022
Ivana Martinez
There are four reserved beds for the program where minors can stay up to 21 days.

“We're seeing more families with children seeking shelter right now and at an alarming rate,” Wilson said. “We're trying to unpack that and figure out why that's happening. But there is a critical need for giving the support to children that is necessary to get them on the right path.” 

Two thousand and thirty children ages 6 years old and younger received homeless services in Utah in 2019, according to a report by Crossroads Urban Center.

During the first six months of 2020, the report also found there were 1,268 children aged 6 and under who received services.

“When homeless youth are identified in the community and can't be served through partners like Volunteers of America who have this amazing center themselves. Youth will come here,” Wilson said.

Cara Stephens, associate director of youth services at Salt Lake County, explained the trauma-informed care approach taken by the program is about meeting these kids where they are.

“At youth services where we deal with a lot of different mental health issues, kids in crisis, families in crisis, is that understanding that there's history, there's a background about why kids are behaving the way they're behaving,” she said. 

So far the program has helped 114 children in 2022. Youth can access the program’s services by heading to the center or through their educational homeless liaison at their school district.

“I just really hope that the youth coming here feel like they're coming to a safe place where they can be and express themselves how they want to and that when they leave they have a safe and stable place to go,” Stephens said.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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