State needs to offer better aid to homeless teens

By By Emily Rodriguez-Vargas

By Emily Rodriguez-Vargas

Those of us on campus are in our own bubble. We are protected, we can afford a college education8212;or try to at least8212;and most likely come from families that value education and hard work. Having a roof over our heads, enough food to stay healthy and even convenient devices such as laptops, cell phones and iPods are part of life.

Our community doesn’t only consist of well-educated, healthy and able-bodied individuals, though. We have people among us who are living on the streets with no place to go and little hope for the future. According to the United States Conference of Mayors 2007 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities, 15.3 percent of the population in Salt Lake City lives below the poverty line.

The number of U.S. citizens in poverty has dropped, according to White House Press Secretary Dana Perino in an Oct. 20 press release, but we still have 671,888 people throughout the nation without homes. That isn’t exactly something to celebrate.

There are some people who beg for money instead of working and make a living off of generous people. However, they are the exception, not the rule. Others are suffering from injuries, physical or mental, and aren’t able to heal, work or get their lives on track. Most of these people have lost hope in themselves. It’s hard to imagine going through life without achievable goals, the necessary resources for a normal life or enough food to make it through the day.

People who are asked to give money by various people on the street, at the grocery store, or on TRAX often feel frustrated and embarrassed. It’s a challenge to know what to do, as we cannot foretell how the donation would be spent. Some people might use the money to buy food to get by for the week. Others might not know how to spend it wisely, or might not be able to help themselves from using it to support an alcohol or drug addiction.

Containers to donate cans of food to the Utah Food Drive can be found throughout campus. As helpful as food drives and volunteering at homeless shelters are, it’s only temporary relief and not a solution to the problem.

The Road Home, an organization that works from Salt Lake Community Shelter, the largest homeless shelter in Utah, gives those without homes shelter and food. The Road Home collaborates with the Department of Work Force Services and other organizations to pave the path to employment and self-sufficiency for its residents.

“The city has been very supportive in fighting homelessness,” said Celeste Eggert, director of development and community relations at the Road Home. Palmer Court, a 201-unit housing facility for families, young men and women, will be completed in the spring of 2009.

What our state is lacking, however, is shelter for homeless teens. The Volunteers of America organization offers a drop-in center here in Salt Lake City, in which youth between the ages of 15 and 22 can have two meals each day and use bathrooms and laundry facilities.

“Teenagers don’t like to mix with the homeless adult population, but they also have different needs than adults,” said Sam Stephens, the vice president of external relations at Volunteers of America.

Continued education and employment are important issues for homeless teens, who can’t be admitted to a homeless shelter until they are 18. The streets and deserted buildings have become a place of refuge for youth who might have been kicked out of their homes or simply don’t have any family.

Salt Lake City has a 10-year plan to end homelessness, but to work toward this goal we need to address the issue of homeless teens more directly.

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Emily Rodriguez-Vargas