East High School in Salt Lake City is transforming two locker rooms to offer laundry and shower facilities for the school’s homeless population. Of the school’s 2,000 students, an estimated 80 are homeless. “If we can help provide those basic necessities, our hope is it will free up some mental and physical space there for them to focus on school,” expressed principal Greg Maughan.
The newly redesigned downstairs locker rooms are stocked with community donations of clothing, detergent, towels and toiletries; even the laundry machines were donated. These facilities will also provide relief to students that communicate having tumultuous or neglectful home situations that do not accommodate self-care.
“A lot of teens now are serving as caregivers, and they may not have the opportunity to shower in the morning, but they want to. There’s typically enough time where they can get breakfast and still shower and get ready for class,” said Maughan. Sixty-four percent of East High students are on fee waiver, meaning they receive two free meals a day from the school.
The facilities were an initiative of the East High’s Parent Teacher Association, who had set a goal this year of helping the school’s homeless students. PTA co-chair, Kris Barta was given the new paid part-time position of “family support specialist”.
“They have too much on their plate to be successful students. So if we take some of that off by making sure they have food and clean, appropriate clothes to wear, maybe they can focus on their academic goals or what they want to do in their life, but most importantly stay in and finish high school,” says Barta.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of youth homelessness in Utah, followed by lack of affordable housing. Homeless youth often experience physical and sexual abuse, drug dependency and are more likely to contract HIV. Additionally, they commonly suffer from severe anxiety, depression and low self-esteem— making suicide the leading cause of death among homeless youth in the United States. Youth identifying as LGBTQ are especially vulnerable.
Measuring the homeless population is problematic. Utah especially has recently been plagued by controversy about whether or not the Housing First policy has made an impact in reducing homelessness. Housing First is an approach that “emphasizes stable, permanent housing as a primary strategy for ending homelessness”.
Glenn Bailey, director of Crossroads, a food pantry in Utah, reports “since the recession, the largest single part of the homeless population that’s grown is families with children, and youth”. The Utah database of government-funded shelter and transitional housing services showed an 11 percent increase in clients between 2014 and 2016.
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