I didn't know I had this many options being out here. —Tiffany Galloway
SALT LAKE CITY — A 21-year-old mom in jeans, flip-flops and a tank top stood in the shade Wednesday afternoon at Pioneer Park and explained why it's difficult to find a place to live.
"It's stressful, and out here you feel more comfortable," Tiffany Galloway said.
Galloway was one of dozens of homeless Utahns who received help and information from the Street Outreach Operation, the first of a planned weekly event at parks throughout Salt Lake City.
Service providers gathered in one location from noon to 4:30 p.m. to create a "one-stop shop" to meet people's employment, food, housing and medical needs, according to Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Michelle Ross.
Ross walked the park, scouting for people who would accept housing, employment, food assistance or help with substance abuse.
In the past, service providers would overlap their efforts, talking to the same client but not to each other, Ross said. The presence at Pioneer Park was an effort to streamline efforts of the agencies. In coming weeks, they will drive to different locations to try to reach more homeless Utahns.
Brian Lange was one of those who stopped in under the white canopy tents near the Salt Lake City Police Department's mobile command center where the service providers sat.
Lange said has been couch surfing since 1999. He began using crack to escape the pain of a traumatic childhood experience and was soon addicted. He quit in 2006, he said, and got back on his feet. But Lange said he started again after his mom's Alzheimer's diagnosis two years later.
By January 2009, he was back on the streets. Now, Lange said, he wants off the streets and away from the drugs.
"I see heroin out here. I see speed," he said, adding that the sight made him sick to his stomach.
Lange said he was waiting for Veterans Affairs to show up so he could talk with the agency about housing.
"I count on them for everything," he said.
A long way to go
Galloway was at Pioneer Park with her fiancé and two stepchildren. They were going to take the children swimming, she said, because they have begged to go.
Later Wednesday night they were going to stay with a friend in Ogden. She had a black rolling suitcase that was at least 2 feet tall and a grocery sack full of DVDs.
Galloway's 2-year-old son is living with his father, who has custody until she can get over this current "bump" of no job or housing, she said.
Galloway said she was kicked out of her most recent housing unit when she could not afford rent. For the past two months, she and her fiancé have bounced from friends' houses to motels when they had his kids and on the streets when the kids were with their mother.
Ross said she wanted to change this pattern, for the sake of Galloway's stepchildren.
"They don't deserve that. They need some stability," she told Galloway.
Ross gave Galloway information on other housing options, a relief to Galloway who had thought she no longer qualified for housing.
"I didn't know I had this many options being out here," she said.
Part of Galloway's battle for housing includes uncertainty about a possible waiting period.
The Road Home, which provides housing for homeless families, would not provide the Deseret News with an average waiting period because every case is different, shelter officials said.
Volunteers of America, which houses individuals, said the wait could be anywhere from a week to two years, depending on the case and the client's cooperation.
The ultimate goal
Ross said she hopes a continued presence in the community creates greater trust between the homeless and the providers.
Wednesday's providers included Catholic Community Services, Valley Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, the Fourth Street Clinic and its consumer advisory board, and The Road Home.
Ross will monitor clients and expand to include providers who can meet the needs of the homeless.
She is already making changes for next week by encouraging providers to bring forms with them so clients can get started on necessary paperwork as soon as possible.
One man who came to the white tents was already well on his way. Carl Spitzmacher, wearing a full beard and a yellow T-shirt, moved into his residence on April 1. He knew many of the providers at the outreach, addressing some of them by name.
Spitzmacher smiled as he explained that people can buy furniture for their homes by managing their money well. He rattled off a list of what he had obtained using KSL.com classifieds and Deseret Industries for free or reduced prices — a rolltop desk, a mirror with a chip in one corner, a filing cabinet and a sewing machine.
As far as the service providers, he said, "I can't say enough."