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New facility helps homeless young men transition to self-sufficiency

The newly opened Volunteers of America Utah's Young Men's Transition Home offers clients ages 18-24 a path from homelessness to self-sufficiency. The four-story home in Salt Lake City has the capacity to house and provide mentoring to 14 young men.
The newly opened Volunteers of America Utah's Young Men's Transition Home offers clients ages 18-24 a path from homelessness to self-sufficiency. The four-story home in Salt Lake City has the capacity to house and provide mentoring to 14 young men.

SALT LAKE CITY — When Kevin Latour lost his apartment, his life plans got put on hold.

He couch surfed for a while, but the arrangement was hardly ideal. Latour, 21, wants to complete high school, train to be a paramedic and eventually become a firefighter.

Three weeks ago, Latour became one of the first residents of Volunteers of America Utah's Young Men's Transition Home in Salt Lake City. The four-story residence, which can house up to 14 homeless young men ages 18-24, provides them opportunities "to get serious, get things situated and get my life in order," Latour explained in an interview Tuesday.

On Wednesday, VOA Utah will conduct a ribbon cutting and community open house of the facility, 556 S. 500 East, which was constructed and operates through a partnership of government and private contributions. The event gets underway at 2 p.m.

VOA Utah officials had not planned on building a new residence for the program. The nonprofit agency had initially sought to rehabilitate an old boarding house, about 100 years old, to house the program.

On Sept. 16, 2012, a fire destroyed the building. VOA Utah stepped up its fundraising efforts to build a 5,000-square-foot facility, which development director Zach Bale said better suits the needs of clients.

The residence has a large kitchen, dining area, laundry facilities and private rooms for residents. It has one bedroom and restroom accessible to people with disabilities.

Nick Diachun, program manager of the transition home, said residents can live in the home up to two years. However, they are expected to be working toward their education, vocational and personal goals.

While residents do not pay rent to live in the facility — the Department of Housing and Urban Development and private fundraising cover operational funds — they are expected to save at least $25 a month in a bank account. "When they move out, they get to have it. It's theirs. It could be used for a deposit, or for education costs or for a uniform for work," Bale said.

So far, six young men have lived in the facility but two have already left, Diachun said.

Many of the young men served by VOA have aged out of foster care. As they enter their young adulthood, they struggle because they lack housing or an essential mentor who can steer them to resources or answer questions about job seeking or their education.

Clients are referred to the facility by a number of agencies, including the Division of Child and Family Services and the VOA's Homeless Youth Resource Center.

Potential residents undergo interviews to determine if their life goals are compatible with the expectations of the household. "What I'm looking for are individuals who are homeless and individuals who have a plan for what they will be doing next," such as work or education goals.

"How people attain those goals is up to them," Diachun said.

While staff members act as a resource, one of the goals of the program is to encourage self-sufficiency. VOA does not stock the kitchen with food, for example. While the nonprofit agency receives regular offers from volunteers to bring prepared food to the residence, the program expects the young men to use community resources such as food pantries or purchase food with cash or food stamps and prepare it in the kitchen.

Bale said he returned to his parents' home twice while a young adult. "There comes a time you get that nudge (to go out into the real world). I don't think it will be that different here," he said.

Construction of the facility was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, Salt Lake City HOME fund, George S. & Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, John Netto and the Rev. Catherine Putnam-Netto, the B.W. Bastian Foundation, LGBT Community Endowment Fund at the Community Foundation of Utah and American Express Center for Community Development.

Latour, whose family is in Florida, plans to start a program next week at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center to earn his GED. He also is training for cage fighting and enjoys a good game of poker, he said.

Having a place to call home "is definitely a plus. It's comfortable and it's spacious."

Latour works at a fast food restaurant and he "likes to stay out and stay proactive."

But Diachun said Latour frequently checks in with him or other staff members, who are on duty 24 hours a day. While they are not surrogate parents, the staff helps to answer questions and be the go-to person young people need to help them find their way.

The transition home, Latour said, is an important means to get back on track with his life goals. "It's all about what you want to do in life and how are you going to get there."