Salt Lake's homeless need more than just a new shelter they need transitional housing, vocational training and jobs.
The Homeless Not Helpless committee met Wednesday with Mayor Palmer DePaulis and, during a news conference at The Inn, a community center and day center for the city's street people, spokesmen asked city officials to listen to their comments about community problems."Little can be accomplished if (those in) this community try to blind their eyes and put their hands over their ears," said Keith DeMarrias of the homeless committee. DeMarrias said without community help, the homeless are condemned to soup lines and second-hand clothes, a "no-hope, no-answer, dead-end life."
The committee was organized last week after the west downtown business community complained about drunken transients who loiter near their businesses and scare customers away. Wednesday's news conference was the second the homeless community has held in four days. On Sunday, the committee complained of the media and business community's portrayal of Salt Lake's homeless population as lazy drunks.
"What we need here is a working effort between the homeless and the business people of Salt Lake City. You're not going to stop the homeless problem unless we do it together," said Nick Geoghan, a homeless spokesman.
The homeless are willing to work but need training and job skills, Geoghan said. Dianne Santoro, also of the committee, said the homeless would provide the sweat equity to salvage abandoned housing units. She said tent cities and communal living situations had worked to provide transitional housing in other cities.
DePaulis told the group he is committed to programs that would ease the transition from street life back into the mainstream of society.
"We want to get at the long-term solution, and at the roots of what we all have as a problem," the mayor said. "We're all part of the problem. This is not a homeless problem. This is all our problem.
"We need to preserve the dignity and preserve the freedom that everyone should have in this city."
He said the city is leading the effort to build a new homeless shelter and also plays a strong advocacy role to encourage the county and the state commitment to social service programs.
DePaulis termed the news conference a "unique opportunity to get us all together in a very public way," and pledged to talk with homeless leaders again in a setting that wasn't a media event.
DePaulis also invited homeless representatives to participate on his committee focusing on street population problems.
The committee originally focused on the west downtown business community's safety concerns because of the influx of transients in the area, said Emilie Charles, DePaulis' administrative assistant. With the addition of homeless representatives, the committee has evolved into addressing the broader scope of the city's street population.