I love the holiday season - that hectic but somehow cheerful few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
As it approaches this year, I find myself thinking of it as a season of change and hope, in part because some of the homeless in the area will begin moving into the new Salt Lake Community Shelter and Resource Center right after Thanksgiving.The hope part, I think, comes from my belief that this shelter has the potential to make a difference in a great many lives.
I've written quite a bit about the amenities and the courtesies being extended to those who have run out of luck. But I haven't rhapsodized, yet, about the approach Travelers Aid, which operates the shelter, and others plan to take in helping people repair their lives.
I think the Salt Lake area finally is going to approach homelessness as a whole-body problem, with a systemic cure in mind.
The first step at the shelter, according to Patrick Poulin, director of Traveler's Aid, will be to stabilize the families and individuals who come in.
Caseworkers will talk to them and assess their needs, then will make the appropriate referrals to other agencies both in the shelter and in the community to help meet those needs.
A number of services are in the shelter or very close by. Minor medical problems will be treated by medical staff in either the onsite clinic or the one across the street at St. Vincent De Paul Center.
Job search opportunities will work through the shelter. And there's a very nice little touch there, too. In the past, the homeless have not been able to leave a phone number for prospective employers to call. And no one wanted a would-be boss to call and hear "homeless shelter" as the answer on the telephone anyway.
Now, individuals will answer some phones in the shelter set aside specifically to take business calls. Calls will be answered with a simple "hello." The "boss" could be talking to a family member or friend.
It shouldn't be the deciding factor in a job search, but sometimes I think it might be.
People who need referrals to social service agencies, mental health facilities and other assistance will be able to turn to the case manager for help with the process.
Best of all, according to Poulin, that will establish ties to a needed service out in the community. And when the homeless individual is ready to make a transition out of the shelter and into the community, that tie will already be in place to make the process easier.
Education is another link that can be forged between the facility and the community at large. A lot has been said about the kindergarten through 12th grade "School with No Name" operated by the Salt Lake School District.
The plan to offer adult education classes has received less attention, but is certainly as vital to the well-being of the families and individuals who are homeless.
The classes are offered through the Salt Lake Community High School and can be continued from within the community once the adult leaves the shelter.
I've asked some of the homeless individuals I know what they think of the new shelter.
So far, they haven't been in it and they haven't formed an opinion. I'll be interested to see what they do think about it once they've had a chance to be part of the case management system.
It's too soon to even guess what kind of change it will make, but if expectations are worth anything, the impact should be great.
- On a related subject, I did a column two weeks ago about a young woman under the underpass who needs business clothing so she can apply for a job. She's just one of many with that need.
The response was overwhelming and I am talking to some of the existing service organizations to figure out the best way to get the clothes from the donors to the men and women who really need them.
When we get something set up, we'll be in touch with the people who responded to the column.