Story and photos by PAIGE NELSON
Tents lining streets, garbage in flower beds, needles scattered across public parks. This is the picture that is painted in most individuals’ minds when thinking about homeless people.
Stripping down any perception of a human living in these conditions, all the public sees is unshaven men sleeping on sidewalks and drug addicts pushing stolen shopping carts full of personal belongings.
While this stigma surrounds low income Utahns, there is work happening behind the scenes actively trying to help individuals get off the streets and back into the community.
Kat Kahn, director of development at The Road Home, has had ample experience helping the homeless population of Salt Lake City.
“Our No. one goal is to move people out of emergency shelter and into housing as quick as possible,” Kahn said in a Zoom interview. “The majority of the people we serve stay under six months.”
The Road Home is one of the oldest homeless centers in Salt Lake City, established in 1923. It has grown to having three emergency shelters across the Salt Lake area, not including overflow shelters used during the winter.
The Road Home stresses housing first. Each emergency shelter is tailored to the individual in need, and there are three options to choose from:
The Men’s Resource Center in South Salt Lake is located at 3380 S. 1000 West and houses 300 single men.
In Midvale, another shelter is located at 529 W. 9th Ave.,where 300 beds are provided for families.
Finally, the Gail Miller Resource Center is located at 242 W. Paramount Ave.and is a 200-bed split shelter for both men and women.
The public perception of the homeless community is one of the most challenging factors that Kahn deals with on a daily basis. Upward of 100 children facing homelessness at a time may have to jump through extra hoops to not feel the embarrassment that comes from lack of housing. School buses in Salt Lake City pick up the children at the shelters first on their way to school, and drop them off last so that their peers don’t see their living conditions.
The Road Home helps families and individuals pay their first months’ rent so that they can get their feet under them and start providing for themselves again. Kahn explained, however, that for about 13% of homeless people that won’t work. Those who face disabilities, have substance abuse disorders, or who are chronically homeless might not make it out of the shelters in that six-month period.
Homeless shelters in Salt Lake City work with each other, as well as apartment companies, food banks, and mental health facilities to create a healthy environment for those who come to seek help.
Volunteers of America, Utah, is a nonprofit that works with homeless shelters in the area, including The Road Home.
Andrew Johnston, chief strategy leader at Volunteers of America, said in a Zoom interview, “We’ve been doing street outreach for a number of years … there are a lot of folks who are outside all year round who don’t have housing, and we are just offering basic needs and services to them … and trying to get them housing.”
These basic needs are things like getting homeless people IDs so that they can get medical help and subsidized housing. Volunteers of America also helps people get into detox centers and off substances they might be abusing.
While lots of work is happening out in the city, there is another, smaller, community that is making great strides in helping people experiencing homelessness as well.
The University of Utah, home to 25,000 undergraduates, works daily to help find affordable housing for its students. The Student Affairs Division acts as an umbrella to multiple departments and centers on campus, including those focused on student diversity and inclusion.
Kimberly Hall, an associate director of development for Student Development and Inclusion, explained in a Zoom interview that the U helps students facing food scarcity and financial problems, and experiencing homelessness.
“We want to take that concept and ideally help students learn to negotiate the university system as well as community resources to address their needs,” Hall said.
Student Affairs is creating a new office in the student union basement. It will be located next to the Feed U Pantry with the goal that more students will start to utilize the resources that they are paying for.
The renovated area will be child friendly for parenting students, and will contain a financial wellness office to help with issues ranging from rent assistance to domestic violence situations. Because of its close proximity to the Feed U Pantry, students will also have access to food if they don’t have the money to cover that extra expense.
All across Salt Lake Valley the community is getting involved and making a difference in curbing homelessness.
Kat Kahn, director of development at the Road Home, is one of those individuals who is working hard every day to help people experiencing homelessness. Kahn believes that, “Anyone that wants to be housed should be able to be housed without it being really problematic.”