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Advocates calling for change in law to help Utah's homeless youth

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SALT LAKE CITY — Some homeless advocates claim Utah law is stopping them from helping teens who are out on the streets. A handful of people are pushing a bill that could change that.

The argument is that current law makes it difficult to build shelters aimed at helping teens. Right now, licensed shelters are required to report any homeless youth to police and the Department of Workforce Services within eight hours.

Some say that's not enough time to assess the situation, and as a result many teens head out to the streets to hide.

Sam Bracken had a tough childhood.

“My stepbrother Denny uses me as a human dartboard,” he said. “I was born the product of rape. Unwanted.”

Bracken has made efforts to capture his pain — which he said includes physical abuse — in a book.

“As a 15-year-old kid, everything I owned fit in this orange duffel bag,” he said.

Bracken is on a mission to make sure teens in Utah don’t suffer the way he did.

“My last two years of high school I bounced from place to place to place, trying and failing to live with my family,” he said. “There’s a lot of issues, a lot of drug abuse, a lot of violence, a lot of things that were terrible.”

They can have all the determination and tenacity they want, but if they don't get help they won't make it.

–Sam Bracken, advocate

Bracken isn’t alone.

Laura Warburton spent much of her youth on the streets.

“I was heading towards San Francisco to do unspeakable things because I knew I could, and to survive on my own, I thought,” she said.

Now Warburton volunteers much of her time to help homeless youth.

“We’ve got trafficking issues,” she said. “I mean, these kids are having sex for a bed, having sex for a meal. That’s not OK.”

Warburton credits a California youth shelter for getting her back on her feet. For Bracken, it was role models who helped him earn a Georgia Tech football scholarship.

Both say the law needs to change before youth in Utah can get the same help.

“They bolt because they know that they’re considered criminals,” Warburton said.

Warburton spent Friday at the Utah Capitol, working with Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, to push a bill that would extend that window to 48 hours. Parents would still have to be notified.

“They can have some downtime,” she said. “They can collect themselves. They cannot be in fear, they can breathe, they can have a meal.”

Warburton would ultimately like to raise funds for a youth shelter in Weber County. But before she and others like Bracken can help, they say the law must change.

“They can have all the determination and tenacity they want, but if they don’t get help they won’t make it,” Bracken said.

HB132 is set to hit the house floor early next week. Froerer said he’s confident it will pass.


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Mike Anderson


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