OGDEN, Utah (AP) – Six years ago, when Kristen Mitchell started thinking about opening a temporary shelter for homeless and unaccompanied youths, she knew it was an enormous undertaking.
“For most of that time, it was such a big, crazy idea I didn’t dare talk about it,” she said, according to the Deseret News.
But she was nagged by the knowledge that there was a desperate need for a youth shelter in northern Utah.
As a single mother, Mitchell had on occasion searched the streets for her eldest child during stormy periods in his youth.
Her life partner, Scott Catuccio, had been a homeless youth himself.
Then there were the telephone calls on the Pride Empathy Hotline that Mitchell launched in 2011. Nationally, some 40 percent of homeless youths identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
All things were pointing to the goal of opening a youth shelter, she said, though there were many hurdles to clear before achieving that end.
Mitchell had been a small-business owner for 20 years, including owning a gallery in Park City, but the economic downturn took a toll on her businesses.
So she decided it was a good time to go to college and pursue her dream.
“I didn’t have a degree at all. I graduated in May with a degree in social work,” she said.
The practical and academic knowledge Mitchell gained was instrumental in working through the long process to open Youth Futures shelter home. Her fellow students and professors at Weber State University have been some of her staunchest supporters.
Before she could do anything, the Utah Legislature would have to change state law to give the shelter the flexibility it needed to work with runaway or unaccompanied youths. That happened in 2014.
Under the amended state law, shelter workers and volunteers must still notify parents of their child’s whereabouts. After 48 hours, they must notify the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.
Mitchell searched for a suitable location for a long time, finally finding a house in a residential neighborhood that once was a group home. The windows were broken and someone had booted in the door.
But with a little tender loving care and a lot of paint, Mitchell knew the house would work perfectly for Youth Future’s needs. She and Catuccio closed on the purchase in August.
Since then, the shelter at 2760 Adams Ave. has been “a revolving door” of people offering financial support, donations of bedding, clothing, toiletries, food and furnishings.
Mitchell is its executive director and Catuccio is president of the privately funded, nonprofit organization’s board of directors, and oversees IT projects such as installing its security system and setting up the computer lab for the youth.
The shelter, which has 14 beds for youths ages 12-17, opened in mid-February.
Just one of the beds was occupied on a visit last week, although Mitchell said two more youths were expected by nightfall.
One of the most significant challenges of operating a shelter is cultivating trust with a population that has left their family homes due to conflict, abuse or other difficulties with adults in their lives, she said.
Youth Futures also operates as a drop-in center, where youths can get a meal, take a shower, wash their clothes or pick up things they need such as food, clothing or a sleeping bag.
“We’re also putting together a street outreach team,” she said.