Patrick Poulin is looking for words.

The director of Travelers Aid, which operates the new homeless shelter, isn't quite sure how to say, "Thanks so much" and "Please do more" at the same time.While the new homeless shelter can serve more people in better surroundings, he said the community needs to realize that the job is only partially finished.

"It's a bit like if people offer you a really nice cassette player for your car while you're still trying to fill the tank," Poulin said. "The music's great, but you can only sit in the parking lot because there's no gas."

Poulin said people along the Wasatch Front should be very proud of the new homeless shelter, built almost entirely through the generous donations of individuals, corporations and groups. But the foundation is not completely laid, because the base budget - money that provides bottom-line services like employees to staff the facility and pays for utilities - is about $100,000 short.

Additional money is available, but most of it is targeted to special projects like transitional housing, employment and other things.

"With federal and local funding, we have to do all these special projects. And that's great, because they are important, but there's an assumption that the base is taken care of so it's time to look at employment, housing and the like. The fact is, we are still trying to get the base. We're trying to fill the tank, and yes, we want the cassette player, but we have to have gas or it won't do any good."

The shelter has averaged about 20 families and 320 single men since it opened in late November. Plans are in the works to build a new women's shelter, as well, sometime next year. In the meantime, about 38 women have been crowding into an area that can "easily hold 24," Poulin said.

"We have to decide what to do," he said. "We can make some cuts - we can cut back on what we can do in the way of social work to help these people improve their lives. We can cut back on the monitoring we do. Or we could keep the place not as clean. None of those options are appealing. And some probably aren't safe. But we were so understaffed when we opened that it was ridiculous and we're still catching our breath from that."

Poulin said a stable base would allow staff members to focus on things that can change lives, like finding jobs. But such "extras," however important, have to be secondary to paying the light bill.

He said that the shelter's programs have positive impact on at least a few of the lives that pass through its doors and he hopes the community will, in turn, receive some of the benefits. But the partnership forged in the community still needs work.

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