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Salt Lake County unveils newly renovated building for runaway, homeless youth

A bedroom in the newly renovated Runaway and Homeless Youth Program facility which was unveiled on Thurday.

A bedroom in the newly renovated Runaway and Homeless Youth Program facility which was unveiled on Thurday. (Ashley Fredde, KSL.com)


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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SOUTH SALT LAKE — The Runaway and Homeless Youth Program is one step closer to feeling a little more like home after the newly renovated building at 177 W. Price Ave. was unveiled in a ribbon cutting on Thursday.

The renovations began shortly after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic following the facility's use as a place to quarantine. As the building sat empty, the inspiration and process for renovations began. A muralist and interior designer were brought in to update the 90s interior with a trauma-informed approach.

"We have used the renovations for this as a trauma-informed approach because as we work with at-risk youth who are experiencing homelessness in the community, it's really important that we use trauma-informed approaches in all of the things that we do, including our physical spaces," said Cara Stephens, associate director of the program.

In a trauma-informed environment, workers are trained to recognize and respond to others impacted by traumatic stressors in a safe and welcoming environment.

The updated interior features murals in the common space in cool and calm colors, a reading corner, gaming systems and tables throughout to facilitate group activities or conversation.

"We are not like an institution. This is a place where you can be safe and relax and be yourself and have things to do while we kind of work through the crisis moments that they're experiencing at the time," added Stephens.

Beyond the common space and amenities — such as a laundry space — the facility features four dedicated beds for youth services.

The mural's theme extends into the bedrooms that feature two beds. The furniture arrangement and design of the room separate the room in a way to encourage boundaries — both physical and emotional, said Carolyn Hansen, director of the program.

Outside of a physical space to sleep, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program offers wraparound services. To access the program, every youth is given an initial assessment and case manager.

"We really use that information that's given in intake about all the risks that this youth may be facing, including trafficking — both sex and drug — mental and physical abuse in the home. Why they're experiencing homelessness and maybe some poverty issues that we can help them address," said Stephens.

The case manager works to create an individual plan for the youth to access services and help them return to a safe and stable environment with resources.

"That's our No. 1 goal here," Stephens said.

So far this year, the program has served approximately 114 youth with around eight of them being reoccurring clients. Around 90% of the youth in the program are reunited with parents or legal guardians following their stay at the facility and 99% of the youth are in safe and stable housing at the 90-day follow-up, according to Stephens.

While the reasons youth run away or are experiencing homelessness can vary, it's important that each reason is regarded seriously.

"A lot of time our youth are overlooked," said Stephens, pausing a moment to collect herself. "But I really think it's important that people take our youth seriously and that they're really good listeners when they are actually telling their stories — and then asking them, do you want help?"

"We want them to come through our doors, but some of us don't want help. And if they don't, you just be patient with them and they'll come back to you because you didn't force them to do something," she added.

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Utah homelessnessUtahSalt Lake County
Ashley Fredde covers human services and and women's issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on arts, culture and entertainment news. She's a graduate of the University of Arizona.

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