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VISIONS OF ALTITUDE REACHES OUT TO HOMELESS TEENS

Visions of Altitude, a drop-in center for homeless teens, has officially opened its doors, although it actually began operating a month ago and has served 25 young visitors since then.

"A lot of them are scared, but they're slowly learning to trust us," says Lara Lee, 23, a former homeless teen who is the program director. "We're dealing with some pretty hard-core kids."The center will offer a respite from the streets while the youths consider where to go next. For some of them, just having a place to get messages will make the difference, said Susan Jensen-Stahr, who volunteers at Visions on Tuesdays.

"It's incredible how just that one little thing can stop you," said Jensen-Stahr, who spent time on the streets as an older teen. She became a volunteer because "there was an incredible lack of resources for someone in that age group" when she was homeless.

The warehouse has come a long way since Visions' board of directors rented it just two months ago. With operating funds supplied by Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and the state, Lee went searching for volunteer labor to clean up the place, complete major repairs and create a home.

Contributions have included a van, sofas, a television, a small refrigerator, desks, chairs and a couple of computers that need repairs.

Shelves hold used clothing, new socks, sanitary napkins, games and puzzles.

On the wall near a board advertising job opportunities, Lee has posted the center rules: no drugs, weapons, smoking, foul language, fighting or gang colors.

During the opening Tuesday, community leaders praised everyone who has spent time or money on Visions' cause.

"This is a perfect project. It may not be elaborate, it may not be furnished in a style that will hit Architectural Digest. But this is how it has to happen," said Utah Lt. Gov. Olene Walker. "The real solution comes when we're willing to put an arm around a youth and treat that youth with love and caring and respect."