Bonnie Martinez and her children understand the precarious position they're in: employed, homeless, living in a shelter.
After being evicted from the South Salt Lake apartment they had rented for five years, the Martinez family literally had nowhere to go. They went to officials of their church, hoping someone could help them get a motel for a night or two. The officials pointed them to the Community Winter Shelter, operated by Travelers Aid Society.The room was big. There was no privacy. But it was a roof over the heads of Bonnie Martinez's two daughters, one son and 2-year-old grandson when they needed one.
They and the other families are moving from the old Silver State Building, which will close Friday, but Martinez hates to see the beds being taken down and the door locked just in case there are other families, like hers, who have nowhere to go.
In all, 13,006 "shelter nights" were provided at the Community Winter Shelter, 600 S. 250 East, since it opened in November, said supervisor LeAnne Hatton.
Only six families remain at the shelter. Many may find a temporary home with family and friends, though one single mother with small children has no place to go, Hatton said.
Most of the people served by the overflow shelter have made the transition into the Salt Lake Community Shelter and Resource Center, like Bonnie Martinez's family, or have found apartments or other housing arrangements.
The Long Range Planning Committee for the Needs of Homeless Persons is developing a long-range plan for providing services to the homeless. That may include services on a "continuum of care" basis that would best be provided in small, neighborhood settings, said co-chairman and former Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis.
But that plan won't be completed by next winter, meaning homeless advocates will have to once again find a building to house people during the difficult winter months when shelters operate at capacity, DePaulis said.
This was the second time the Silver State Building has been used as an overflow shelter. Salt Lake City donated the building, fixed the roof, added sprinklers and moved employees to other facilities. But Mayor Deedee Corradini has continually asked that other communities share in finding solutions to homelessness.
That there are only six families left in a building that once housed about 160 is evidence the shelter was successful, Hatton said.
"A lot was accomplished, and we learned things to do better next year," Hatton said. The staffing, with help from students from the University of Utah, was excellent, she said, and the community and nonprofit organizations were supportive of the families.
There were parenting classes, play groups and dinners. The Utah Department of Health was on hand when a child was diagnosed with meningitis and officials feared the disease might spread. It didn't.
About 150 beds, many of them twin-sized bunk beds, were placed in the building's two rooms. Hatton said most people stayed in the shelter about 60 days. More than half of them were children.
"We just hope that we find someplace for next year," Hatton said. And, if as in years past, the neighbors are fearful of a homeless shelter near them, Hatton said they should look at this year's experience and delay judgment.
"They can go talk to our neighbors. They were OK with us."