Utah’s Youth Resource Center is a goldmine for the youths experiencing homelessness

Story by NINA YU 

It’s a pleasant afternoon as teens filter through the doors of Utah’s Youth Resource Center. The large windows allow plenty of natural light and the walls are decorated with LGBTQ+ flags and informational posters that promote inclusivity.

For the youth who are experiencing homelessness in Utah, the Volunteers of America Youth Resource Center (YRC) enters as a first-step program to help these young lives get a boost when starting anew.

The Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Volunteers of America.

The YRC is a resource center and emergency shelter that serves youth ages 15-23 who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk. People are allowed to drop-in at any time before 7:30 p.m. to receive the help they need. It is located on 888 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City.

The center provides all the necessities for someone experiencing homelessness: essential basic need items, a food pantry, laundry, and showers.

Volunteers help serve three good meals a day. The YRC also has many divisions that help the youth with life skills, housing and employment, legal services, mental health, and access to medical care provided by Fourth Street Clinic.

Every day from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., the YRC becomes an emergency shelter with 30 beds. Most of these are either first-come, first-serve, or they’re made available through a randomized lottery system.

“We have a three-month program called the Self-Reliance Program (SRP) that will guarantee 15 people a bed,” said Byron Paulsen, the YRC program director. “They’re required to stay in the shelter a certain amount of nights. If someone enrolls for SRP and doesn’t show up, we don’t hold that bed for them when there are other youths waiting.”

The goal of the SRP is to help the youth experiencing homelessness to learn skills and overcome barriers that will then help integrate them back into the community and live life on their own. The program is operated by a clinician who offers mental health and substance abuse services. The SRP also helps youth with their education, if they choose to take advantage of it.

“One of the youths, who’s in the program, is working on getting his GED,” Paulsen said. “He’s super excited about it and is doing extremely well.”

Since the SRP is a program that requires the individual to be proactive in making progress toward getting out of homelessness, the center has strict requirements. Youths who are in the program are required to stay at the shelter four out of the seven nights per week. They are allowed to miss three nights but must communicate this to the shelter coordinator. Youths must set goals and are expected to continually make progress. They are encouraged to attend group sessions at the center that teach things such as independence but must attend weekly sessions with the program coordinator and a youth advocate. In 2019, approximately 700 youth accessed the services provided at the YRC.

If a youth fails to maintain these standards, they can be dismissed from the program and the position will be given to someone on the waitlist. Many of the youth who are either at-risk or destitute can have issues with timing, which is why the center encourages them to reapply in the future.

Although this may sound rigorous for these youths who are already experiencing homelessness, the YRC is not a place where the youth can just come and hang out. Volunteers and program coordinators strongly recommend taking advantage of all the services the center provides such as legal help, group meetings, or programs that help with getting out of homelessness.

The Youth Resource Center, located at 888 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Volunteers of America.

With a huge resource space like the YRC, there are 20-35 volunteers who come in daily to assist with various tasks and activities. Volunteers learn about Volunteers of America Utah from word-of-mouth, outreach programs, social media, and donors.

“Volunteers help serve three meals a day at the YRC. They usually stay and help for two hours, but there are a few that help out 10-20 hours a week,” said Alexis Brown-Brotherton, the corporate relations & volunteer engagement director, during a phone interview.

Many volunteering positions are open to those who want to help out, but Brown-Brotherton says they only consider positions for people 16 and older. Volunteer services also provide a one-on-one program, the Amplified Mentoring Program (AMP), that connects youth with a personal mentor who can help with skill development, attain self-sufficiency, and eventually build the youth into a successful member of the community.

Volunteers who are approved to be in AMP must go through a thorough background check and be committed to meeting up with their mentee once or twice a week. Brown-Brotherton says volunteers are always needed at the YRC and other centers. Currently, the organization is seeking more volunteers to serve meals at the Women’s Resource Center and the Center for Women and Children.

A department that is housed at the YRC is the Prevention Team. Prevention does not work with the YRC directly. Instead, it is an outreach program that helps at-risk youth with substance abuse and violence prevention. The team works with schools and other state-run programs to prevent youth from having to come to the YRC.

“With our partnership with the Division of Child and Family Services, we serve youth aging out of foster care,” said Alexa Wrench, the director of prevention services. “We help connect these youths to housing options in order to prevent them from experiencing homelessness.”

The Prevention Team’s outreach program looks for youths in second grade to high school who have a low attachment to their community, high levels of family conflict, and academic failure. Prevention also collaborates with the Youth Empowered Solutions to Succeed Program (YESS). Case managers work with teens to find stable housing and employment. It’s another program youth can take advantage of, if they need mental health therapy and support.