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A new day for homeless youths in Salt Lake City is about two months away as Volunteers of America-Utah puts the finishing touches on its 30-bed shelter at 888 S. 400 West.
The $6 million, 20,000-square-foot facility will offer 24/7 support as well as education, counseling and job training to help teens struggling with homelessness.
On Wednesday, Volunteers of America (VOA) officials offered a sneak peek of the state-of-the-art facility. It's scheduled to open May 24.
Kathy Bray, the president and CEO of VOA-Utah, said the shelter will offer security to young people ages 15 to 22 and also will focus on health, education and employment.
"They can come here and get the services they need and become self-sufficient," she said.
Homeless youths are particularly vulnerable, Bray explained. "They are couch surfing or walking around all night and bartering for a place to stay," she said. "Often with sex or drugs."
The VOA's youth center at 655 S. State is a cramped space and operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. "When we close the doors every evening, it's heartbreaking," Bray said. "Because most of our clients don't know where they will spend the night."
One young man who has benefited from VOA programs is Antshawn Lewis, 18, who came west from Michigan. He had lined up a job in Utah, but it fell through and he found himself on the streets in Salt Lake City.
Fortunately, he bumped into a VOA outreach team that guided him in the right direction. Lewis had not graduated from high school and had few job skills. These days, however, he's living in VOA transitional housing, completing his GED and has a job at Deseret Industries.
He likes his job as a clerk. "I like to help people," Lewis said. Eventually, he wants to become an EMT.
Lewis has a big family in Benton Harbor, Mich., and tries to stay in touch. "I tell them I came a long way and learned a lot of things," he said. "I met a lot of nice people who gave me resources to go further in life."
The VOA's new facility on 400 West, like the old one on State Street, will offer three meals per day. But unlike the old one, it can house 30 people and provide services for many more. VOA-Utah expects to serve 800 homeless teens in the coming year.
At the new shelter, youths can attend classes from Horizonte, the alternative high school, get counseling for employment and use a computer lab, among other things.
There also are washing machines and a store where they can get hand-me-downs for job interviews or casual wear.
"No teen should have to call the streets home," said Rob Wesemann, director of homeless services for VOA. "This new center also will allow us to remove the youth from the homeless-adult population."
The new facility is in line with the strategy of the coalition trying to address homelessness by providing smaller shelters located on separate sites and enhancing services for youths.
For more information, visit VOA-Utah's website at voaut.org.