SALT LAKE CITY — For years, homeless outreach workers from Volunteers of America-Utah have worked with a client who suffers from mental illness and prefers to live on the streets.
The nonprofit has arranged housing for the man numerous times, but he's balked every instance. As a major winter storm brewed in western Utah on Tuesday afternoon, volunteers were again extending the offer.
"This storm might be the ticket to get him to come inside," said Jessica Fleming, program manager for homeless outreach.
According to VOA's counts, some 700 homeless people live on the streets in Salt Lake County. Most are adult males, and many of them congregate in downtown Salt Lake City. "There are a lot of people camping out along the river in Murray, Sandy and in West Valley City," Fleming said.
Much of Tuesday was spent distributing sleeping bags, coats, gloves, hats and other warm clothing to clients who could not be persuaded to spend the night in shelters.
The supply of those items was running low, which was causing some anxiety as workers labored to locate homeless people and ensure they would at least have outerwear to weather the storm and sub-freezing temperatures to follow.
"It's a very spooky day today. Tomorrow morning, I know we'll be very busy. It's amazing how resilient people can be, though," she said.
While Tuesday's outreach was critical, government and private agencies in Salt Lake County are engaged in a long-term strategy to address the area's homeless population. Having a place to call home is part of the solution. Equally important is intensive case management that can begin to address the underlying issues of homelessness, homeless advocates say.
Some of the housing options for the area's homeless include transitional housing in apartments scattered across the valley, short-term shelters in Salt Lake City and Midvale operated by The Road Home and temporary housing in churches overseen by the Family Promise program. VOA also operates a detox shelter.
According to the Utah Comprehensive Report of Homelessness for 2010, 82 percent of homeless Utahns live along the Wasatch Front, mostly in Salt Lake and Weber counties. About 5 percent of the state's homeless population remains homeless for lengthy periods, the report said.
Wish list for homeless outreach:
winter coats (men's L and XL)
These items can be dropped off at 511 W. 200 South No. 160.
Financial contributions can be made at www.voaut.org