Thousands of Utahns have contributed strands to form a safety net that will catch families and individuals in danger of falling out of society.
That safety net, the Salt Lake Community Shelter and Resource Center, was to be dedicated Friday. A breakfast with representatives of various groups operating the shelter was attended by local dignitaries, including Mr. and Mrs. Jon M. Huntsman, who have made large contributions to the shelter.A noon dedication was scheduled with President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the LDS Church's First Presidency, offering remarks and Bishop George E. Bates of the Episcopal Dioscese of Utah giving the dedicatory prayer.
The center will begin to provide temporary shelter and assistance to as many as 240 single men and 110 family members at the end of November or the first of December, and a facility for up to 40 women will be completed next year.
"The shelter is a statement to the homeless that they are important and the community is committed to helping them get back into independent lives," said Patrick Poulin, director of Traveler's Aid Society. Traveler's Aid will oversee operation of the $4 million facility.
The center takes a new approach to homelessness. The typical "roof-over-the-head" will be augmented by independence-giving on-site services: case management, classes for children in kindergarten through grade 12, medical assistance, job services, some day care, help for veterans, limited legal assistance and adult education classes.
Those services will be enhanced by others close by, including Valley Storefront Mental Health, St. Vincent's De Paul (which provides lunch and varied forms of assistance) and the Indian Walk-In Center. The Salvation Army has purchased a building that will open soon, as well.
According to Emily Charles of Mayor Palmer DePaulis' office, the shelter's best point is the co-location of services. "People didn't know where to go when they were in trouble, and they sometimes just got in deeper," she said.
There are also amenities. The shelter provides lockers so individuals can leave personal items and feel they are safe, showers, laundry facilities and local telephone lines - all small but very important components of a successful job search. Unlike the old homeless shelters, it is a 24-hour center, and is handicap-accessible.
"Our purpose is not to create a human warehouse," said Stephen Holbrook, coordinator of the Shelter the Homeless Committee and project, "but to provide a place where people are assisted with their problems.
Homeless individuals the Deseret News talked to were, in general, guardedly optimistic. Most have not visited the shelter yet and said they have enough trouble coping day-to-day without planning ahead.
"But if it's everything they're saying it is," one said, "I may be able to get things back together.
That, according to the planners, is the general idea.
"The shelter will serve as a real focal point for aiding homeless people, and is a real collaboration between services and people," said Maun Alston, chairman of the State Homeless Coordinating Committee. "It's a full resourcecenter to help people get on their feet and back in the mainstream."
Planning and raising money for the shelter took two years. The people who provided it are as varied and individual as the people who will hopefully put their lives back together there. ("Put 240 men in here, and you have 240 different stories," Poulin said.)
Private individuals and corporations donated money. The Episcopal Diocese and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made sizable contributions, as did other religious and public-service organizations. Even school children held fund-raisers.
The dream of building a new shelter has been reached, but the real work is just starting, Poulin said.
"Part of the challenge is to make sure the community doesn't think this is the answer. It's the first step. The homeless will come here and we will allow them to stabilize, then help them refocus on getting back into the community," Poulin said. Case managers will help the homeless individuals find services and when they move out of the shelters those services will already be a part of their lives, he said.
The shelter has received some criticism in the community from people who said it would remove incentives for the homeless to improve their lives, and even attract homeless people.
Poulin disagreed. "That hasn't been my experience. I don't think most people want to raise their families in a shelter. Can you imagine bringing them back in 20 years and saying this is where you grew up.
"We cannot ignore the homeless. But to think that this creates home-lessness, that people moved out of their fancy houses to live in this nice new shelter," he chuckled, "I think those people miss the point. This is a statement that we are willing to not have people live in terrible conditions."
The shelter will require continued community support to exist. The initial money raised paid for renovating the old Westinghouse Building and the woman's facility. But available funding will only pay about 60 percent of the ongoing operating costs.