Hutton House, a temporary shelter for runaway, homeless and youth in crisis, helps hundreds of local teens every year by providing both immediate housing needs and offering individual and group counseling. For one local teen, Hutton House was more than just another social services agency it was a lifeline.
“They saved my life,” said 16-year-old Carlos.
Carlos was referred to Hutton House after running away from home earlier this year. The teen, who was experiencing abuse at home, said he didn’t know what to expect the first time he entered the program.
“It was just like you walked in a regular house… And they all sit down at the table and eat together,” said Carlos.
Along with the home-like environment of Hutton House, Carlos said he also appreciated the staff members who took the time to listen to him and advocate for his well-being.
“They understand your perspective…They treat you well, like you’re wanted,” he said.
After an extended stay at the shelter, Carlos found a new home with Hutton House Family Advocate Araceli Figueroa.
Figueroa started as a volunteer at Hutton House in 2014 and has been a staff member since 2016. While becoming Carlos’ guardian was an unusual circumstance, Figueroa said working at Hutton House she has the opportunity on a daily basis to play a role in saving kids’ lives.
“We have the opportunity to give the teens a voice and to find a safe shelter,” she said.
Hutton House has been helping youth in crisis since 1970, when it first opened as a drop-in center under the name Head Rest. Today the program, operated under the nonprofit organization Center for Human Services, houses around 250 youths a year.
“We pick them up, brush them off and try to figure out what their situation is and usually refer them to other services,” said Hutton House Program Manager Valrie Thompson.
While Hutton House started a new street outreach this year to let homeless youth know what services they offer, Thompson said the shelter is for “any kid who has any crisis going on who may need a safe place to be for a while.”
Thompson said they see youth struggling with drug and/or alcohol problems, or kids who are dealing with tragedy such as the loss of a family member or a house fire. More recently, Hutton House has served teens who are victims of labor or sex trafficking.
They also see a lot of youth dealing with gender identity.
“Those kids often need a lot of support because they don’t have a lot of support at home. Oftentimes if they’re struggling with gender identity, it can be very isolating,” she said.
Thompson, who has been working at Hutton House for over 30 years, said that while they get cases of horror stories involving abuse and neglect, they also serve many youths from “typical” family situations.
She said that many years ago, she had a young girl come to the program from a typical family who was acting very rebellious and using drugs and alcohol.
“She got connected with us, got involved in youth group. She came back a few years later and volunteered and then I hired her and she worked here for three years. Recently she just opened a new restaurant in downtown,” said Thompson.
“This is our everyday story.”
The program has a professionally-trained staff, but also relies on a crew of volunteers.
The volunteers are trained on how to listen to kids and how to interact with kids. They also have volunteers trained on how to answer Hutton House’s 24-hour crisis hotline.
“Sometimes it’s just hanging out with the kids, playing games with the kids, cooking a meal. Anything that helps create a safe, caring environment,” she said.
October is the program’s busiest month and precedes National Runaway Month in November.
Thompson encourages the public to get the word out about Hutton House and the services it offers to teens 13 to 17 years old in Stanislaus County.
“If you need a safe place to be while you’re processing whatever the crisis is, this might be the place for you,” she said.To contact Hutton House, call 209-526-1623 or visit www.centerforhumanservices.org/hutton-house/