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

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

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

Less than half of all public housing authorities administering HUD’s Familiy Unification Program serve youths. Instead, this form of rental assistance is used to help families involved in the child welfare system, the study says.

Mina Koplin, manager of the county's Milestone transitional living program, said the county teams up with private and public partners to provide housing to a small number of homeless youths in the valley.

Young women live in housing units leased to the program by the Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake. Its young men are housed in a house owned by Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. The program is funded by a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, Volunteers of America-Utah operates transition homes for homeless young women and young men, the latter opening last month. It can house 14 homeless young men ages 18-24.

The nonprofit organization has provided services to homeless youths for 15 years, through its street outreach, resource center and transitional housing programs. It serves about 1,000 homeless youths a year through the three programs, VOA-Utah's president and CEO Kathy Bray says.

The nonprofit recently received a conditional-use permit to build an emergency shelter in Salt Lake City to further serve homeless teens and young adults, she said.

Collaboration is key to these programs, Koplin said. Unlike other states, Utah agencies that serve youths, provide services to homeless people and manage public housing are often at the same table attempting to better meet the needs of clients.

"We're having the conversation, but (the number of available beds is) all very small compared to the population that has a need," Koplin said.

Homeless youths need housing to be safe and meet their basic needs, she said. It is easier for them to reach other goals such as obtaining identification documents, completing their GEDs and finding work if they have a place to come home to at night, Koplin said.

Milestone participants are required to work on personal goals and abide by rules of conduct — no drugs, alcohol, violence, weapons, explosives, pets, overnight guests or criminal conduct.

Jen Pomroy, house manager for Milestone's young women's program, regularly checks in with Alofipo to ensure she following house rules and to guide her to resources she needs.

Alofipo's case manager Cydnie LaCour helps her keep on track with her goals, offers referrals and serves as a mentor.

Alofipo has learned to trust the small circle of adults who are advocating for her, she said.

"She's just blossomed at a very rapid rate," LaCour said.

Alofipo has high praise for the Milestone team, too.

"It's meant a lot to me to have really supportive people around me. These are the type of people I want to have on my team. I'm grateful for that," she said.

"It helps that you are so incredibly loveable," said LaCour, wiping a tear.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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