- Associated Press - Friday, July 15, 2016

OGDEN, Utah (AP) - Leo Farmer says he owes his life to Ogden’s Youth Futures Homeless Shelter.

On his own since turning 18 a month ago, Farmer is just one of the 64 youths the shelter housed in its first 13 months of operation.

“I would most likely be dead if they hadn’t been there,” Farmer said.

Shelter staff members say after just 17 months of operation, they now face some of the same problems as their clients while they wait for needed grants. Staff members at the shelter are hoping the public will reach out with donations to tide them over, just as they do for those they serve.

Shelter officials just learned they aren’t getting two grants they were counting on receiving, reported the Standard-Examiner (https://bit.ly/2a0qjRd).

“Things feel like they are going to work out,” Youth Futures Executive Director Kristen Mitchell said. “We just keep managing to make it.”

She said she hopes shelter publicity will entice people to make donations.

“It’s about wanting people to remember that just because we are not a new organization anymore doesn’t mean we don’t need their ongoing support,” Mitchell said.

This past year, the shelter’s budget was $302,000. Next year, they are expecting it to be in the range of $400,000.

Mitchell continues to make goals for expanding even while her organization is struggling.

“We’re just trying to keep the doors open,” she said, noting how loss of funding will mean the shelter will have to close. “That’s ultimately what will happen if we don’t have the funding. We keep managing to keep the doors open each payroll.”

Mitchell said shelter staff members are “mad grant-writing” at this time, hoping for a couple of federal grants that are due next week.

In the last month, donations that came in from responses to a Huffington Post article about the shelter have kept the shelter on its feet for now, Mitchell said.

After a year of discovering the great needs by those she serves, Mitchell said she is more dedicated than ever to keep her nonprofit afloat.

Farmer found the shelter on the internet after much effort to leave what he described as a life of physical, mental and sexual abuse and years of confusion that led to him discovering he was transgender.

“I definitely had some idea of it growing up but no words to put to it,” he said. Explaining he had no computers in his home growing up, he said discovering the social media site Tumbler changed his perspective. “I found other people who were like me,” he said.

According to Youth Futures’ first annual report, with statistics from February 2015 to March 2016, half of those housed reported being gay and 17 percent said they were transgender. Fifty-two percent said they had attempted suicide.

Farmer said he had tried suicide multiple times, the last of which landed him in a psychiatric ward.

He arrived at the shelter shortly after that attempt. He said a friend from Logan drove to New Mexico to get him out of the hospital because officials there would not allow him to leave without being in someone’s care.

But his stay with his friend didn’t last long. Once he got back to his friend’s apartment, he said her father told him if he didn’t leave, police would be summoned.

“I moved out one hour before the cops got there,” he said.

He left quickly with the friend, who drove him there using the address he’d gotten from the internet for the shelter.

“The shelter was the only place I knew to go,” he said.

He said it was the hard work of the staff at the shelter that convinced him he was worth saving.

“It’s not like I had much to live for, but I had a place to be and people trying to convince me otherwise. It definitely made a difference.”

Farmer now is working at Walmart, with plans to get a second job to pay off his hospital bills and his first semester at the University of New Mexico.

Farmer said he chose that school specifically because of its efforts to address gay and transgender issues. He was staying in a dorm specifically geared toward LGBT people. Farmer said he had paid for programs to help him graduate early from high school in Lubbock, Texas, because he wanted to get away from his home life.

He said he liked his first semester at the University of New Mexico, but that enjoyment came to an end when he experienced anxiety after going home for Christmas break and payments came due for his first semester. He said he asked his parents to co-sign for student loans, but they refused.

It was during his time at the university that Farmer changed his first name from a female name. He said his parents first heard the name Leo when they called him at the hospital in January.

“I had a huge argument with my parents on the phone,” Farmer said. “That’s the last time I spoke to my dad.”

That refusal to acknowledge Farmer’s lifestyle was a challenge for him even after he arrived at Youth Futures.

Though he was diagnosed with depression and personality disorder in the hospital, Mitchell said Farmer’s parents would not give permission for him to receive psychiatric medications doctors said he needed.

Mitchell said the number one goal of Youth Futures is to improve relationships with those staying at the shelter and their families, sending them back home whenever possible.

“We work at helping parents understand the kid better and the kid understand the parent better,” Mitchell said. She noted that 85 percent of parents work with the shelter, often going there for therapy.

Mitchell said such improvements aren’t always possible, pointing to issues with Farmer’s parents as an example.

Other goals of the shelter include locating homeless youth who could benefit from services.

According to the first-year report, staff there spent 245 hours in street outreach, providing items needed by homeless youth. Mitchell said no one has been directly brought into the shelter through that strategy so far, but she is optimistic that such efforts will pay off in the future.

“We currently go out for street outreach one day a week, but we’d like to expand that to three,” Mitchell said.

“It’s important to be consistent with street outreach,” she said. “You have to be there at the same time and in the same place, with the same faces to establish trust.”

The shelter, which works with other youth services programs, offers drop-in services, including case management, and connects youth to mental and physical health care, as well as group therapy. It also provides computer access, showers, laundry facilities.

The report lists 511 drop-in services provided in the first 13 months.

A resource room at the shelter, which provides clothing, hygiene items, backpacks, blankets, sleeping bags and basic medical supplies, was opened for youth 354 times in the same time period.

Mitchell said since they opened, staff at the shelter discovered there is a high percentage of family poverty among homeless youth.

“A lot of families are homeless,” she said. “They may have a safe place to stay, but it’s not necessarily safe for their kid.”

Farmer said he is excited to start school next spring after he obtains Utah residency and can afford tuition at Utah State University. He plans to study art and wants to enter the movie industry.

Those who are interested in donating to Youth Futures may contact the shelter at 801-528-1214.

___

Information from: Standard-Examiner, https://www.standard.net

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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