Former homeless youth help Salt Lake County secure federal grant

Sep 27, 2023, 12:27 PM

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Salt Lake County is set to receive nearly $2.8 million in federal grant money to help tackle issues associated with youth homelessness after submitting an application and presentation that included significant input from young people who had previously experienced homelessness themselves.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that $60 million would be awarded to 16 communities via the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program.

Among the recipients of the funding was Salt Lake County Continuum of Care, which will get $2,768,061 in funding.

According to county officials, the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness’ Youth Experiencing Homelessness task group played a “pivotal role” in securing the grant, which had proven elusive to the county in previous years.

In particular, some of the contributors to the YHDP grant application had previously experienced homelessness.

They were particularly ecstatic during a meeting Tuesday afternoon on the funding award.

“This is crazy,” said Yixiao Burke, president of the Youth Action Board. “I don’t think this is real yet to me. It hasn’t hit me yet. But I just know this will change our youth community — a big change.”

Maygan Martinez said she started the Youth Action Board in 2019 when it became apparent that the county needed more influence and input from young people with lived homeless experience.

“It is super important — you’re addressing system issues and unless you’re talking with the people who have been through the system, you can’t address it effectively,” said Martinez, who once found herself homeless two months after moving out of the foster care system. “You can understand that there are bigger issues but until you actually work with the people who have lived it, you can’t understand how to actually fix the problem.”

Natalie Clark, on the board as well, had also previously experienced homelessness after leaving the foster care system.

“While I was in college I was living out of my car,” she said. “I knew what it felt like to go through it and I want to prevent other young people from going through what I went through.”

Officials said of the 100 to 120 people who age out of foster care every year statewide, 30% on average end up incarcerated or homeless within two years.

The funds, they said, were needed to help support those aging out of the foster care system as well as all other young people who never touch the system and find themselves on the streets at an early age.

According to officials, the funds would be made available within the next 18 months and discussions were in progress over exactly how they would be allocated.

The group was simply grateful that their lived experience helped contribute to the county securing the grant money.

“This has been months in the making and sweat and tears — sweat and tears,” said Cameron Thompson, Youth Action Board vice president.

Clark also said the outcome was gratifying.

“It’s really emotional to know that, for once, young people with lived experience are being given the titles of experts because we are experts of the experience,” Clark said. “To know that we are seen and empowered to do the change we are capable of doing by our entire community is the most uplifting feeling I’ve ever felt personally in my life.”

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Former homeless youth help Salt Lake County secure federal grant