HUNTSVILLE -- Laura Warburton has learned about a population of homeless people that she can't get out of her mind.
They are children who are on their own.
Because they are breaking the law if they've run away, they can't stay in a shelter in Utah for more than eight hours.
That puts them on the streets.
"Where are these kids tonight?" Warburton said, fretting about the oncoming cold temperatures.
And she has learned that many of these youths have run away from abuse.
"Mostly, they've come from a bad home life," she said.
For now, Warburton is putting together a warm coat and clothing drive for these kids, who she said often find each other and form families that live in abandoned buildings and find ways to avoid detection.
But in the future, she hopes Utah will adopt laws that will better address the needs of these kids.
"These children are under 18 and alone," she said. "Kids run from abusive foster care. They run from abusive families. They are scared. Some live on the streets for years."
Warburton is a legislative assistant for Rep. Gage Froerer, a Republican who represents Utah House District 8 and who is exploring options for changing Utah's laws.
Warburton said she was moved by a story she heard from Rachel Peterson, a graduate student researcher at Utah State University.
Peterson told her about a 12-year-old boy who told his family that he didn't fit into their belief system. The family told him to leave and to come back when he had his act together.
Finding a shelter, the boy was offered food.
"That evening, he has to make a choice," Warburton said.
"He can't stay," she said. "By law, the shelter has to call his parents, the police and the (Department of Child and Family Services) if he's there for more than eight hours. He can't sleep there. The same law applies to any adult that might consider allowing him to sleep on their couch. ...
"The shelter has no other choice but to give him a sleeping bag, some supplies and send him on his way to find a place to sleep."
Peterson, a doctoral student in sociobehavioral epidemiology, said it is hard to know how many youths in Utah have faced that boy's same struggle.
But she said she has been involved in a Point in Time count of homeless people, including youths. Through surveying youths who appear at Salt Lake City shelters on specified days twice each year, Peterson has uncovered that among those homeless youths questioned:
* 30 percent who were homeless had been homeless for more than one year.
* 42 percent had been in foster care.
* 56 percent had experienced abuse before becoming homeless.
* 37 percent experienced abuse after becoming homeless.
Peterson said she learned through the surveys that many youths had engaged in survival sex, trading their bodies for food, shelter or other basic necessities.
Warburton has secured the following locations for those interested in donating warm clothing for these youths from now until after the holidays:
* Warburton's home at 7328 E. 1450 North, Huntsville
* Gage Froerer Century 21, 2641 Washington Blvd., No. 101, Ogden (enter at the rear of the building)
* Gage Froerer Century 21, 2405 N. State Road 158, Eden
* Snowcrest Junior High, 2755 N. State Road 162, Eden
* Weber High School, 430 W. Weber High Drive, Pleasant View
* Valley Market, 2555 N. Wolf Creek Drive, Eden
Needed are new and gently used clean coats and winter clothing items; sleeping bags; socks; shoes; backpacks; lip balm; deodorant; feminine hygiene items; razors and shaving cream; bus tokens; art and school supplies; $5 gift cards for Walmart, which are used as incentives for the Streets to Scholars program; large diapers; wipes; long underwear; underwear; blankets; shampoo; conditioner; body wash; lotion; Sterno cans; lighters; can openers; canned foods; and energy bars, nuts and drink mixes.
For more information, email Warburton at email@example.com.
Contact reporter JaNae Francis at
801-625-4228 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @jfrancis.