The intent here is to buy people time for them to address their underlying reasons for being homeless so they can successfully transition out into the community. —Brent Crane, executive director
PROVO — Leaders of Utah County's nonprofit Food and Care Coalition have long recognized that housing was the missing link in effectively serving homeless men and women.
Absent dedicated transitional housing units, motel rooms have served as the county's "de facto emergency shelter system," said Brent Crane, executive director of the coalition.
"The problem with the motel system is we can only do it for a few nights because it's so costly," he said. "It lacked supervision, and it lacked support services to go along with it."
On Jan. 13, the coalition will open 38 units of transitional housing at its facility at 299 E. 900 South, Provo. Twenty-six units are designated for men and 12 for women, Crane said. The units have a common area, library, computer room and separate laundry facilities.
Food and Care Coalition, through an extensive network of community partners, offers an array of walk-in services for homeless individuals in Utah County, such as serving 80,000 to 100,000 meals a year, shower and laundry facilities, classes, a dental clinic, behavioral health treatment and support, legal counsel, clothing, computer lab, haircuts and mail service. The county's mental health authority, Wasatch Mental Health, offers outreach services at the coalition.
"Before now we opened at 7:30 in the morning and closed at 6 at night short of some evening classes we may have going on, but there's been no overnight (services). That’s going to change," Crane said.
The goal of the transitional housing is to enable residents to take full advantage of the services offered by FACC, which include classes and mentoring.
"The intent here is to buy people time for them to address their underlying reasons for being homeless so they can successfully transition out into the community," Crane said.
There are 100 to 300 homeless people in Utah County, Crane said, with the count varying by season and availability of other shelters in the region. The coalition's clients are single men, single women and couples. The nonprofit serves an unduplicated 3,000 to 3,500 people each year, he said.
The coalition receives some federal grants but it is primarily supported by private cash and in-kind contributions.
"Although we appreciate donations of bedding, food, etc., additional funds required to operate the facility year-round are the most critical at this time,” Crane said.
The nonprofit organization, which launched in 1986, completed construction of its current day facility in 2009. Construction of the residential units was completed in 2011 and the nonprofit has worked since then to raise funds to fully equip them. The agency is in the process of hiring house parents and reassigning staff to provide 24-hour supervision, case management and security at the facility.
“We realize there’s going to be some growing pains there. We’re excited about it and tickled about it. The main reason we built this building to begin with was for the residential units themselves," Crane said.
Crane said other partners such as Provo City, the East Bay Business Alliance and coaltion volunteers have been instrumental in helping the nonprofit agency realize its vision of opening on-site transitional housing.
The Utah Valley Ministerial Association, which brings together the resources of some 40 different faith-based organizations, also will continue to collaborate with the coalition to provide supplies, volunteers and help meet other client needs.
Dental hygiene students from UVU and pre-dental students from Brigham Young University provide dental services.
The coalition requires clients to perform community service.
"It makes them a partner in the service instead of always being what I would call being in a subservient position to the community. I think that's a positive thing. It allows them to hold their heads up high and feel like they're a participant and a contributor. It isn't 'Woe is me.' It's 'Hey, we're in this thing together.'"