Advocates Say Homelessness in Baby Kidnapping Case Raises Awareness

Advocates Say Homelessness in Baby Kidnapping Case Raises Awareness

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News Specialist Sandra Yi reportingThe 2 1/2-month-old baby kidnapped from a downtown mall this week is still in the hospital and in fair condition.

Baby Nicholas is still recovering from a respiratory illness. Meanwhile charges are pending against the three people accused of taking him -- Harold Rutledge, Cassandra Gonzales and Myra Izer.

They were arrested at the YWCA yesterday after walking in with the baby.

Nicholas was taken from the ZCMI Center Tuesday night. His mother had left them in the suspect's care while she went outside to smoke.

Everyone involved, including the mother and the baby, are homeless.

Advocates say if there is one good thing to come out of this case, it's awareness about homelessness.

"I don't think a lot of people are aware how many homeless people there are in Salt Lake, and especially young homeless people and homeless youth," says Nicole Campolucci with Volunteers of America.

Workers at the Youth Resource Center hope the kidnapping of a 2 1/2-month-old baby boy raises awareness of homeless families in Utah.

The latest statistics show that on any given night, there are 355 homeless children in Utah. But advocates say the real numbers are most likely double that.

And the numbers of homeless families and homeless single mothers are on the rise.

"The economy always plays a role with that. Here in Utah, methamphetamine and other drugs have played a role in women becoming homeless," says Jeffrey St. Romain, president of Volunteers of America.

Less than a year ago, 21-year-old Nicole Emery was on the streets with her twin baby girls.

"It was scary, especially because they were so little at birth. It was really scary," Emery says.

Her girls are now in foster care as Emery gets help for a drug addiction at the Center for Women and Children in Murray.

They're her motivation to turn her life around.

"I love my kids to death and knowing that, I'm trying to do the best I can for them. They got taken away from me by the state, but I'm trying to get them back. That's why I'm here," she says.

But advocates say a lot of homeless moms often struggle for the help and support they need. Many lack the parenting skills and medical care for their kids.

"Through our services and services of other agencies in the community, we try to welcome those young moms in and let them know there is a way to overcome those odds that may appear to be insurmountable," St. Romain says.

The Road Home shelter expects nearly 60 families to stay here tonight -- a lot of them with young children. They say the community has been very supportive, but hopes more discussion will lead to more solutions to this problem.

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