Local shelter increases help to homeless youth during cold weather

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SALT LAKE CITY — With the season's early cold snap, Volunteers of American — along with several other organizations — are working to make sure the homeless survive the freeze.

The Volunteers of America give homeless youth one meal a day as they help them get an education and get back on their feet.

But when temperatures are this low, the focus shifts to helping the homeless stay alive.

Some, like 20-year-old Duane Massie, will end up camping out in this cold weather. The Volunteers of America are putting together backpacks, filled with hand warmers, gloves, food, water and other items to simply help young adults like Massie get by.

"There are a lot of people out there that don't have the stuff that we have, and it's kind of nerve-racking to see people like that," Massie said.

Massie has been on the streets six years and Tori Olson, 18, has been homeless for several months. Surprisingly, both say they feel somewhat lucky that it's not worse.

"This place (youth shelter) is warm and it's really good, but we don't have that much time here," Olson said.

Even with shelter beds available, there are people who choose to stay out on their own, so the challenge for volunteers becomes finding ways to bring them the help they need. The shelter said that without distributing blankets, jackets and gloves, some homeless may not otherwise survive the cold weather.

Massie carries all his belonging in one bag, and he said he's prepared to sleep in the cold if need be.

"I've been stocking up. I knew it was coming," Massie said.

During the day, Massie and Olson come in from the cold to get a warm meal.

"You get greeted with a smile, and a 'How are you doing, and how was your night last night?' It's wonderful," Massie said.

Olson said that her situation is the hardest when it's snowing or raining.

"You get wet and it's miserable, because there's really nothing," she said.

Spots like the Salt Lake City library become a popular warm shelter during the day, but shelter volunteer Zach Bale said it's often surprising to see how little people get by with during the night.

Bale said volunteers take to the streets five days a week with blankets, hand warmers, and food for the youth who don't come to the shelter. He said that it's especially challenging when the temperatures drop this low this quickly.

"It's really about supplying them. Both as kind of a holiday gift, but also (it's) the supplies that they need to survive," he said.

The goal and hope of the shelter is that eventually more homeless people will find their way to the shelter.

"There are a lot of people out there that don't have the stuff that we (Massie and Olson) have," Massie said.

Due to federal budget cuts, the youth shelter now only provides one meal a day and their hours have been reduced. Aside from money, the organization is short on first aid kits, refillable water bottles and men's pants.


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Mike Anderson


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