Advocacy group asking Utah Legislature to help fund teen centers across the state

Nov 16, 2022, 11:00 AM | Updated: 5:50 pm

Teen Centers...

FILE: Wood Cross High is one of many local resources for homeless teens. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — An advocacy group, the Policy Project, is encouraging Utahns to ask the Legislature to participate in a public-private partnership to fund space-based “teen centers” in every high school in the state of Utah. The group calls the project, the “Teen Center Project”. 

The teen centers, according to a press release from the Policy Project, will provide basic needs. Including food, showers, laundry and mental wellness assistance to teens.

More than 15,000 Utah students are classified as homeless according to the group’s press release.

In addition to those who don’t have an adequate night-time residence, the Policy Project said that one in three Utah students is economically disadvantaged and qualifies for free or reduced lunch. 

“Schools have long been on the frontlines of ensuring the basic needs of every student are met,” Emily Bell McCormick, president of the Policy Project said in a press release. “We must ensure schools are equipped to meet the growing number of students in need without adding to the workloads of individual teachers.

McCormick said this is accomplishable by “supporting and amplifying” school efforts to better provide for their students. 

Not only will the centers provide momentary stability, but the idea is also to increase graduation rates. When a student has more resources and all the basic necessities, they are likely to perform better in school. 

The Policy Project said the teen centers meet Utah students where they are and where they should be, at school. Underutilized spaces are a great place for schools to dedicate as teen centers.

How does the Legislature help teen centers?

“Our focus will be on students who are at-risk–knowing that if every school has a safe space with one loving adult, every student has a reason to access that space,” said Mary Catherine Perry, Director of Policy and Government Affairs at the Policy Project in a press release.

“When we lift one student, it lifts the whole student body.”

Additionally, the Policy Project is hoping to receive funding for teen centers through a public-private partnership between the Utah Legislature and private donors, including the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation and the Huntsman Foundation.

Where does the Legislature come in? The Policy Project will today, urge the Utah Legislature to appropriate funds and create a bill to support Utah high schools. This will happen Wednesday just before noon at the state capitol.

Speaker of the House Brad Wilson, Senate President Stuart Adams and Utah State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson will speak at the event according to the Policy Project.

“Teen centers aren’t about brick-and-mortar buildings; it’s about relationships,” Adams said. “Students helping other students is impactful. Great advisors also provide mentorships that further help Utah students succeed academically. It was inspiring to see the teens in attendance today, and I’m excited to work with the Policy Project.”

Teens who have experienced homelessness will also be present at the event to speak. 

Teen centers may look vastly different for each community, it will depend on the specific needs of the schools. Additionally, how community members rally together in efforts to support homeless teens.

Finally, the Policy Project in their press release states how the initiative will improve lives. Teen centers interrupt inter-generational poverty, support student advocacy and service among peers, and provide support for rural and small schools.

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Advocacy group asking Utah Legislature to help fund teen centers across the state