Assistant principal Whitney Watchman gives a tour of one of two new washrooms at East High School in Salt Lake City on March 10, 2017. The rooms, each equipped with showers, lockers and a washer and dryer, will be available by request for students experiencing homelessness.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Several weeks ago, our team at the Policy Project met in the office of a Utah teacher. We sat in his mismatched chairs — dark-tinted windows to his back and his favorite football helmet on display. We were there to discuss our newest project — the Teen Center Project — an effort to help all teens, with a focus on the most vulnerable, access physiological needs in order to graduate from high school.
As we explained, “Teen Centers” would be a physical space ideally in every high school in the state. A haven where students could access food, laundry, showers and a trusted adult — someone who could connect students to other community resources that could help them.
We asked if this would be needed?
He immediately affirmed — and reflected.
Years earlier, while on lunchroom duty in an elementary school, this teacher walked between the tables — making sure kids weren’t throwing food or being goofballs. Amid the chaos, he noticed a boy, picking up mashed potatoes from his tray with his bare hands. The boy was putting them in his pocket.
The teacher thought he was seeing this wrong. So he asked.
The boy’s response? “My little sister is hungry.” He was going to take her his potatoes.
As it turns out, too many of Utah’s kids are experiencing extreme needs like this, even with our better-than-average child poverty ranking.
According to the Utah State Board of Education 2022 outcomes, 1 in 3 Utah students are economically disadvantaged, and — most severely — 15,499 Utah students are classified as homeless.
That’s 1 in 50 students without a stable home.
And, because of inflation, housing costs, wage stagnation, COVID difficulties and other grand issues beyond any individual’s control — most definitely beyond the control of a child — those numbers are growing. Since 2020, there has been a 34% increase in students experiencing homelessness.
Source:: Deseret News – Utah News