210 Rio Grande: The epicenter for Utah's homeless

Published: Monday, Oct. 15 2012 9:50 p.m. MDT

That felony really causes her problems, she says, when it comes to securing housing. She insists she hasn't had any problems with the law in four years and while medical problems have kept her out of a job, she gets Social Security and disability checks that could help cover rent. Still, she can't pass a background check.

"I don't understand why I can't get in," she says, before starting to cry. "If God can give you a second chance, if he's a forgiving person, why can't the people he puts in authority give a person a second chance? That's what hurts. I haven't done wrong in four years, so why? I just don't get it."

For the time being, she has a "safe, secure" place to stay, sleeping on the couch of a former homeless friend who was able to obtain housing. She doesn't know how long it will last, though, and she knows the cold weather is coming.

"I layer up, honey," she explains on this gray, rainy Friday. "You put on some layers and do what you've got to do."

Her faith sustains her and while she jokes that she is ready for the "trials and tribulation" to be behind her, she believes "with God's help, I will prevail." She has been told the felony will matter less when five years has passed and she prays that is the case.

"Just because we're on the street doesn't mean we're all bad people," she says. "Circumstances could have them here the next minute."

Help for the homeless

The plight of Utah's homeless does not fall on deaf ears.

There are volunteers and caseworkers and others who have spent much of their lives trying to help.

Dennis Kelsch, director of Basic Needs Services for Catholic Services, is one who helps. He has been with the group for more a decade and has been at its location off of Rio Grande for seven

He said he sees and serves a wide array of people at Saint Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen and Weigand Center, which provides the use of showers, phones, offers haircuts every Monday.

The kitchen serves lunch and day and, by his estimate, around 550 people at lunch and 480 people at dinner.

"(The numbers) have gone up in the last couple of years," Kelsch said, noting that they see an additional 150 or so each year.

"We see a lot more families, a lot more children."

He said the influx prompted the decision to designate half the dining with tables for families. While the Road Home provides the Rio Grande, he knows his group's efforts are vital, too.

"The basic human need is food," he said. "It's nourishment. If you get food, you won't have energy to take care of your children or a job."

He concedes the food isn't always the best, but it's something and good enough for most of the staff to eat. Rio Grande and the surrounding it have plenty of services, including coffee and at the Rescue Mission and a medical clinic, which makes this a gathering place.

"Where there's services, people will come," Kelsch said. "We see it There's everything out there, really. So many categories (of that I see. We're here to give people another chance."

Chronically homeless

He has already noticed that a concerted effort to get housing for the homeless has made a difference. It used to be that someone in transitional housing until caseworkers could "straighten out problems." Now, housing comes first.

"Right now, they do a lot to help them get off the street and get a stable lifestyle," Kelsch said. "I think that's been more

This focus on the chronically homeless is the result of a seven-year Backed by numerous community programs and organizations, the Division of Housing and Community Development and the State Services Office have been honing in on the state's chronically population since 2005.

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