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S.L. County's Milestone program helps house formerly homeless youths

Published: Thursday, May 29 2014 8:33 p.m. MDT

After being homeless, Faaita Alofipo now has an apartment to live in after receiving assistance from the Milestone Transitional Living Program, in Alofipo's apartment in West Valley City on Thursday, May 29, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Recently, Faaita Alofipo briefed state lawmakers about what it's like to be a homeless young adult.

The committee room fell hush as she described how she had recently lived, her state of mind.

“I was in a dark, cold and lonely place, literally. I would spend my nights sleeping on a bathroom floor at a park. I had nothing to eat and no way of feeding myself. I was always tired and hungry," said Alofipo, 21, addressing the Utah Legislature's Child Welfare Legislative Oversight Panel.

She also couch surfed with friends, but "I lost a lot of friends by doing that."

A friend from church knew about Salt Lake County Youth Services' Milestone program and encouraged Alofipo to apply.

Since March, Alofipo has lived in an apartment the Milestone program leases from the Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake. The program also provides intensive case management to help homeless young adults ages 18-21 become self-sufficient.

A young woman who said she felt "stuck in this endless torment of living for nothing" now has plans to finish high school, go to college and one day open her own business.

"Every beautiful thing that has happened to me is due to this beautiful program right here," she said.

Alofipo is among a small of number of formerly homeless youths in Salt Lake County who through government programs or nonprofit organizations obtain housing. Unlike many homeless youths, she was never in the state foster care system. She became homeless after her parents split up.

An accurate count of homeless youths is difficult to nail down, but it is known that about 200 youths 18-21 age out of the state's foster care system each year, according to the Utah Division of Child and Family Services. The vast majority of those youth exit the system by 19.

"Two years after leaving care, we see that 35 percentage of our youth do become homeless. That's a very high percentage," said Charri Brummer, deputy director of DCFS.

Nationwide, 25,000 youths age out of foster care each year, according to federal statistics.

Nick Nahalewski entered foster care as an older teen. He thought he could live with his older brother once he aged out of care.

That didn't work out, "so I was just homeless, sleeping wherever I could, sometimes on friends' couches, sometimes on the ground. It was never easy, especially being around people who aren’t really doing anything with their lives."

Nahalewski now lives in Milestone's home for young men, which he describes as a "blessing."

"Without it, I'd still be homeless or I’d be in jail or I’d be dead," he said.

Nahalewski now has his ID, a job and a car, things he thought he'd never have, he said.

Alofipo and Nahalewski are among a small minority of homeless youths 18-21 who live in supported housing in Utah and nationwide, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“All the available research underscores that these young people are too often faced with the hard choice of being precariously housed or living on our streets or in our shelters,” Katherine O’Regan, HUD’s assistant secretary for policy development and research, said in a HUD news release.

“As we work toward ending homelessness, policymakers at every level of government must consider the unique challenges of young people who exit a system of care with little or no housing options available to them.”

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