Sleep Out, fundraising event shine light on homeless teens in St. George – St George News
ST. GEORGE – Kristen Mitchell wants to raise awareness about the many homeless teenagers who are struggling through life in the area.
Youth Futures cofounder Kristen Mitchell (with microphone) speaks in the parking lot of Youth Futures, St. George, Utah, Nov. 12, 2022 | Photo by E George Goold, St George News
“I would say St. George has just as many homeless teens as Ogden or Cedar City,” Mitchell told St. George News Saturday night in the parking lot of Youth Futures, 340 E Tabernacle. at St George.
The occasion was the Southern Utah Sleep Out, part of the Youth Futures 6th Annual UTSleepOut2022. Several local volunteers and participants slept outside overnight in a symbolic gesture towards the homeless teens who have to sleep every night in cold, often in dangerous conditions without the benefit of a roof over their heads or a bed to sleep in.
“I think sometimes the kids down here in St. George are more invisible,” Mitchell said. “I think a lot of people come with judgment right off the top. They don’t take the time to meet the kids. They’re human beings – they deserve dignity just like every other person.”
Mitchell and husband Scott Catuccio created Youth Futures and run the organization out of Ogden.
“It’s my wife’s fault,” Catuccio joked. “I’m the president and facilities director. Kristen is the co-founder and vice president and executive director. Kristen has built all the foundation of the entirety of how the system works and the program. Me, I just keep things running.”
The mission of Youth Futures is to provide safe shelter, collaborative resources, respectful guidance and diverse support to the homeless, unaccompanied, runaway and at-risk youth in Utah.
“I think what we need the community to understand is if we don’t have a kid in our bed, we don’t have a chance to help them,” Mitchell said. “There is no way, if they’re out on the streets or we turn them away, that we can do anything to help them.
“So no matter what their struggles are, no matter what things they bring to us, we’re going to do whatever we can to help,” she added. “Sometimes kids don’t want help. Sometimes it takes a really long time to help them. We just keep trying. So the goal is to not ever have a kid be able to say, ‘No one cared about me,’ because Youth Futures cared about them.”
Participants during the candlelight vigil at the UTSleepOut2022 event in the parking lot of Youth Futures, St. George, Utah, Nov. 12, 2022 | Photo by Carisa White for the St George News
Trina Taylor, development manager at Youth Futures, said the organization has a shelter in Ogden with 16 beds, another in Cedar City with 12 beds and the facility in St George has 16 beds. The shelters help teenagers ages 12-18.
“Roof over their heads, three hot meals a day,” Taylor said, describing the services offered at Youth Futures. “We have case managers that meet with the kids on a weekly basis, working towards their goals, making sure they’re in school getting the education they need.
“We have therapists, so every youth is offered and encouraged to be part of therapy,” she added. “And our number one goal is reunification with parents or family when it’s appropriate.”
Other services include transportation, employment and housing connections and access to medical treatment.
The Youth Futures shelters conduct weekly street outreach programs to build trust and rapport with youth. They also provide food, water and hygiene kits.
Taylor said that the shelter in Ogden probably sees the most teenagers over the year, mainly because that was the first Youth Futures shelter and the community knows more about it. There is also a bigger street outreach program in Ogden, she said.
Taylor said that homeless teenagers in St. George tend to go largely unnoticed.
“I think most of it is about acceptance, and not turning a blind eye,” Taylor said. “I don’t think people do that to be mean or anything. I think that we don’t want to think that there are homeless teens on the street. But the truth is, there are.”
Events like the Sleep Out are vital tools that help the public understand the plight of homeless teens, she said.
“Like in this event,” Taylor said. “There’s a few of us, but there’s not a ton of us and there really should be more people out saying, ‘Yes, there’s a problem. Yes, we see you. Yes we want to help you.’ And that’s what teens need to know.”
Saturday’s event offered gift baskets for purchase and other fundraising mechanisms.
“The idea of this is to simulate homelessness for one night,” Mitchell said. “What it would be like to be out here. We do it for one night, we don’t have to. And it is miserable, just for the one night. I have never actually made it the entire night through. These kids, they do it. And they do it without the gear that we have.”
The handful of volunteers and participants huddled around space heaters in the parking lot inspired Mitchell.
“I think this is the best turnout we’ve ever had in St. George,” Mitchell said. “We’re hoping for a bigger and better turnout next year, and the next year.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.
Eric George Goold came to St. George News from southwestern Colorado, where he was a radio news reporter. He has been a journalist for over 20 years in five different states. He graduated with a master’s degree in English from Kansas State University and writes nonfiction as well. Goold has been published in Sunstone Magazine and has done multiple public readings about local history. When he has free time, he enjoys chess, movies and dogs.