‘It makes you feel wanted:’ Weber School Foundation opens teen centers as homelessness increases
Sep 21, 2023, 6:33 PM | Updated: 6:49 pm
OGDEN — Teen homelessness is a growing problem in Weber County and schools there are doing something to tackle it.
The Weber School Foundation opened its first of six teen centers Thursday. The space consists of a study area, decompression rooms, kitchen, laundry area and a food pantry.
Emily Oyler, executive director of the Weber School Foundation said they started fundraising for the nearly $500,000 space last year.
“We focus on one specific project that we think is really important and that students in our school district really need and we landed on teen centers,” Oyler said.
She said teen homelessness has increased.
“There are about 1,600 families in Weber County alone who identify as homeless and of those numbers, close to 900 are student-aged children,” Oyler said. “That’s not ok.”
The need for a center was greatest at Two Rivers High School in Ogden. It’s an alternative school serving around 300 students who are typically behind in credits. Principal Teri Spiers said a significant percentage of the student body comes from low income families.
“Maybe electricity’s turned off, or they don’t have washer and dryers, maybe they don’t have water and a struggle for food as well,” she said.
From 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., students can come into the teen center and meet with coordinator Ashley Irazoqui and discuss what resources they need.
“Whether that’s a shower or to wash clothes and through that, Ashley can teach them how to wash their clothes,” Spiers said. “They can request and kind of order what they need as far as food, how many is in their family, when they can pick it up so they can be discreet about that, if they prefer that.”
They can nap, study, brush their teeth, do their hair and cook food inside the center, as well.
“If you had a rough morning, you can come here and you can take time to yourself,” student Shay Robinson said. “It feels like a safe space over here.”
Robinson said he wishes he had the center sooner.
“I’ve grown up in a place where sometimes, it’s not an easy access to be able to shower whenever you wanted,” he said.
He said students who use the center can meet basic needs that they otherwise wouldn’t have at home.
“I feel like here, everyone came here to escape from something from their previous school,” Robinson said. “Or some people can use school as a way to escape home.”
The eleventh grader said the staff at his school are trained to understand and identify when a student needs the extra help the center offers.
“It makes you feel wanted and respected and they actually care about your wellbeing,” he said.
Principal Spiers said the center will help generations to come.
“That is the number one goal of our teachers, just that focus on creating that bond that, relationship, just so they know, even if it’s just one person, that they can connect with, that they do,” she said.
Oyler said the project received funding from the Utah School Board of Education. They received an additional $250,000 for two more teen centers in the district.
“This is just a simple place for them to come and catch their breath and get that boost,” she said.