It's unobtrusively tucked against the wall behind a desk: a simple but sturdy wooden cabinet, complete with a strong lock.
The day I peeked in the "Weapons Drawer" (it's really more of a closet) there were more than 100 knives of all sizes from a tiny pocketknife to a veritable dagger, a couple of pairs of brass knuckles, a pair of nun-chuka, a Chinese star and a few evil-looking bits of metal I couldn't identify. Sometimes, I was told, there are even guns in that cupboard.Each potential weapon was placed in the cupboard voluntarily by its possessor, someone staying at the new homeless shelter. Sometimes the parting is reluctant, the result of a light pat-down at the door. Most often, Patrick Poulin, Travelers Aid director, said, the guys just hand them over on their way in, knowing they'll get them back again later. Each one bears a small, numbered claim tag.
Looking at the miniarsenal puts a different light on some complaints I've heard recently about the homeless shelter.
While I was covering social service issues at the Capitol, I kept hearing quiet rumblings about "conditions" and "human rights" down at the shelter.
One man was indignant because the men were forced to submit to a search (and to hear him tell it, it was not a light pat-down, either) before entering the facility. A couple of legislators talked about a bill that would forbid that type of search, but nothing came of it.
But no one seemed to confront the issue head-on.
I gathered, by asking around, that most of the complaints came from groups claiming to be "empowering" the homeless.
The word makes me a little nervous, because it can have such positive - or negative - connotations. It's a matter of style.
Teaching someone, regardless of his situation, that he is worthwhile is a great accomplishment. Showing him how to change things constructively is even better. If you give someone who is vulnerable a frame within which to work, you may indeed change the quality of his life.
But I have also seen some negative things done in the name of "empowerment." Little is gained by teaching someone to complain - unless they are taught how to work within the system.
Each week, the shelter has a meeting between staff members and the homeless. That would seem to be a good place to begin addressing some of the concerns.
A small group of residents have organized their own group to "speak for the homeless." And I'm sure they do speak for some of the homeless. But homelessness is not a homogenous category, any more than homeowner is. I'm always skeptical of anyone who claims to speak for everyone.
Most of the complaints about the shelter center around the existence of "house rules" like the minisearch and the ban on alcohol and drugs. There are some access restrictions as well. "It's more like a prison than anything," one Deseret News reporter was told recently at the shelter.
Maybe. If not having things your own way constitutes a prison.
Staff members are trying hard to give the people who stay at the shelter a great deal of latitude and freedom.
I believe the somewhat cautious approach taken by the staff is both wise and warranted, not because I think the homeless have less rights than others but because I believe they do have rights. I don't see the light pat-down as much different from making sure sports fans aren't carrying things that could hurt other sports fans.
Weapons, alcohol and drugs are a potentially dangerous component to any situation. In a crowded (sometimes overcrowded) dormlike facility, the danger is greater.
This community built a shelter out of compassion, caring and genuine love for some people who aren't having the best luck. While they stay there, we want them to be safe - and that sometimes means from each other. We also want to protect the shelter staff.
To do that, you have to have some ground rules.