*This is an updated version of an article previously published.
A homeless shelter is not usually seen as a development opportunity or as a place for the larger community. Zach Bale, chief development officer for the Utah chapter of Volunteers of America, wants to change that perception. Bale has spent the past few years working to build Utah’s largest youth center for homeless youth and wants that center to be an asset to the surrounding community.
Construction is underway, on the VOA’s new youth center on the northwest corner of the 900 South and 400 West intersection, adjacent to the Artspace Solar Gardens in the Granary District, the neighborhood bounded by 600 South and West Temple to Interstate 15 and the 900 South Freeway on-ramp.
The two-story youth center will feature a modern industrial look that reflects the industrial vibe of the Granary neighborhood. The center will have large windows to bring in natural light and open up the space more to its surroundings. The main entrance will be at the corner of 900 South and 400 West and will directly engage the sidewalk.
VOA runs a drop-in youth center near 600 South and State Street that serves youth between the ages of 15-22. The current space provides about 4,000 square feet of useable space and provides no overnight services. The drop-in center serves anywhere between 40 to 60 youth per day.
At 20,000 square feet, the new center will provide nearly five times the amount of space as the drop-in center. The new center will also be able to provide what the current space lacks: beds.
“Successful youth centers have a shelter component,” said Bale.
The youth center will offer around 30 beds. Open areas will be converted at night into shelter space which allows the center staff to adjust sleeping arrangements according to demand.
The new center will include more bathrooms, showers and washing machines. The drop-in site has only one bathroom and shower. The center will also have an industrial-sized kitchen and larger dining area which will allow the staff feed more people.
The larger center will provide more administrative space and space for counseling and other related services. The expanded space will also accommodate more volunteers and staff.
Other amenities the new center will provide include: classrooms, activity rooms, creative workshop space, courtyard, living room, multiple common areas and a quiet room.
According to Bale, the character of the Granary District is “youthful, artistic and entrepreneurial” which makes the neighborhood an ideal location for the youth center.
The Granary District has become a center for artists thanks to groups like Artspace Utah. The area’s ample warehouses have also inspired other uses like a microbrewery proposed at 700 South near 300 West.
Bale is aware of the neighborhood’s potential and envisions the center as a catalyst for more positive development in the neighborhood. The site of the new center will be at the terminus of one of the proposed routes for the downtown streetcar plan. The VOA youth center will be across the street from the next phase of the 9 Line trail, a pedestrian and bike trail being built in phases along the old rail corridor running parallel to 900 South.
The VOA youth center placed first place winner of the Utah Public Interest Design Award by the Public Interest Design Institute.
According to the design committee, “The VOA Youth Center is designed to provide a safe and healing environment for the homeless youth of Utah, while contributing to the surrounding Granary and Central 9th Districts.”
The project was praised for being “an anchor for the developing urban environment” with close proximity to public transit and other amenities. The large windows provide “transparency” and “sitelines to the exterior” that provide “constant visual connection to the street.”
The youth center will include retail-style clothing and food pick-up stations that allow youth to try on clothes and grab food as if in a real store. The VOA plans to eventually convert the clothing and food pantry area into actual retail space where the youth can gain job experience and learn new skills.
Bale hopes the youth center’s location in the Granary instills hope in the youth as they feel a part of a growing community.
“The center is part of a larger plan of what we need to do as a community to end youth homelessness,” said Bale.