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YOUTH CENTER OPENS DOORS TO TROUBLED KIDS

The rafters are visible and the room is slightly cool. The furniture looks like an ensemble collected from garage sales, but the two children sitting in the room don't seem to notice.

"It's a bare-bones operation," said LaMar Eyre, director of Salt Lake County Youth Services, of the county's newest youth facility.The Salt Lake County receiving center opened its doors Monday morning in the corner of a Salt Lake office complex. An unlikely location, but officials hope it will enable them to better deal with young people on the verge of trouble.

"Before when kids were getting picked up, they were almost lost in the system for months," Eyre said. In the past, there was no place to take teens that fell into a "gray area."

Police would pick up a teen for a minor offense, like graffiti, and try to find the appropriate place for them. Often the youth would be referred to court and released or taken to youth services where they really didn't belong, he said.

Those teens who can be booked into the Salt Lake Detention Center will still go there, he said.

"Youth services had become the depository for kids that were in the gray area," Eyre said. Now, police will take kids who are picked up to the receiving center, which is open around the clock. After police check the kids in, a counselor will conduct an extensive evaluation on the child.

"One of the beauties of this is that it will address the growing problems of law enforcement," Eyre said. "Police officers can drop the kids off and get back on the street where they belong."

Operating on a shoestring budget, Eyre and his staff hope teenagers in the pilot program will get the help they need before they become seriously delinquent.

"It's an organized effort to put kids in the right place," said Salt Lake County Commissioner Brent Overson. Eyre believes between the receiving center, youth services, the Detention Center and the supporting agencies, teens will no longer fall through the cracks. It is the only center of this type in the state.