UTAH (ABC4) — Advocates, state legislators and teens came together at the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 16, to voice their support for establishing teen resource centers in every Utah high school.  

Teen centers are areas in schools designated to provide resources like showers, laundry and food for students who don’t have access to those things at home or who may not even have a home to go to.  

For student Erick Alva, he said it can make a big difference. 

“Having these centers will really help others. I don’t want them to go through what I went [through.] It’s a hard life to live,” Alva said. 

Alva was homeless for two years. He said school was especially challenging during that time. 

“Growing up, it was hard. There was barely any food, and we were skinny. People called us out for how we looked like,” Alva said. 

According to the Policy Project, a third of students in Utah are economically disadvantaged, and over 15,000 students in Utah, or 1 in 50, are considered homeless. That number increased by 34% since the pandemic. 

They proposed legislation that would implement teen centers in every high school in the state, so at-risk students can have a safe space with adult supervision. 

“This is a space where they can take a shower where they can wash their clothes so that they can feel like they can go back to class and pay attention to class,” said Emily Bell McCormick, founder of the Policy Project. 

Some schools already have these centers in place.

One student from Mountain High School, Moana Suka-Hanis, said she uses the teen center for food. Every morning, she sees students bringing in clothes to wash. 

“It can make [things] easier on not just the students that are involved at the teen center but the families of the students,” Suka-Hanis said.  

Alva said he would’ve taken advantage of clean laundry and food. He said those resources would’ve helped him academically in ways that some teachers and classmates don’t understand. 

“I could have got my grades better. Teachers wouldn’t be yelling at me, calling me out,” Alva said. 

And the idea of improving the lives of at-risk students across the state is exactly the goal these teen centers are trying to achieve. 

“Our students all across the state, regardless of where they live, should have access to what they need in order to great a great education, and that starts with basic health needs,” said Sydnee Dickson, Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

This, of course, comes with a price tag.

The Policy Project estimated it’ll cost $50 million to refurbish spaces for teen centers, hoping to get both government and private funding. Both state house speaker Rep. Brad Wilson and state senate speaker Sen. Stuart Adams spoke at the event today in support of this upcoming bill, so it is expected that the topic of teen resource centers will be brought up in the next legislative session.