A homeless organization's complaints that the new Salt Lake homeless shelter may be "dangerous, depressing and humiliating" are based on misunderstandings, according to the coordinator of the committee responsible for completion of the building.
Homeless Organization for People Everywhere (HOPE), a group composed of homeless people, wrote to Utah Attorney General David L. Wilkinson last week to express concerns about conditions at the new shelter."The HOPE organization has a right to speak out and organize and a right to be mistaken about what the new shelter will provide," said Stephen Holbrook, coordinator of the Shelter the Homeless Committee.
Holbrook questioned the accuracy of several statements in the letter, including the assertion that there is a "100 percent unemployment rate" among the homeless.
"St. Vincent (de Paul Center) has done an incredible job of putting hundreds of people to work this summer," he said, adding that others have found their own jobs. "But some of them are homeless because it takes a little time to save money to get into housing."
The letter also referred to the shelter as a $7 million project, when in fact it will cost around $3.3 million.
Holbrook said HOPE organizers may not know the services that will be provided at the shelter.
"The whole concept is transitional; it's not intended as housing. We couldn't accomplish anything without attempting to move people out," he said. "With the services that will be there, we will try and make a difference and move them on out."
Services provided will include case management, where the homeless individual will meet with someone from Travelers Aid to try to draw up a self-sufficiency plan; access to telephones for job searches; housing and other referrals, a school sponsored by the Salt Lake City School District; and transportation to services not available in the area. The site was selected partly because it is close to a wide number of programs that serve the homeless population.
Holbrook said the state school board has also expressed interest in coming in and doing "job training adult education related work." Intermountain Health Care and the Wasatch Homeless Health Care Group will provide medical assistance at the shelter, in addition to that available at St. Vincent's, across the street.
The facility includes showers and laundry areas, quiet and active spaces, a warming kitchen for families' light cooking for children, 24-hour access (although a curfew will be encouraged) and private lockers.
Some of the rooms are handicapped-accessible and major funding has been put into physical safety. The building has fire sprinklers and is earthquake resistant, has air conditioning and insulation for heat, cold and sound.
Finally, there is adequate space for a variety of voluntary groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Junior League, to come in.
"Our two focuses are protection from the elements and movement back into society," Holbrook said.
"It's ironic that several neighborhood businesses are worried that it's too nice and a few of the homeless worry it's not nice enough."
The shelter is expected to open in late fall.