Giving money to a panhandler neither helps nor dignifies either side of the gesture.

So advise the state's most active homeless advocate and the state's highest elected official.

Keep the dollar or two you would donate to the guy with the sign on the corner — who probably isn't homeless anyway — and check the donation box on your 2008 state tax return, Pamela Atkinson recently told the Deseret Morning News editorial board.

"You'll have done yourself the favor of giving, and you have made a real contribution to ending homelessness by 2014," she said.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. reiterated the message on Friday during a speech. He noted that 100 long-term (more than three years) homeless men and women moved from the streets to permanent housing in 2007 and that by year's end, 525 men and women — a quarter of the state's long-term homeless population — will have moved off the streets into permanent housing.

That humanitarian act in action has shown "we are moving away from a strategy of managing homelessness, to solving it," Huntsman said. "We are restoring people's dignity, improving lives."

Atkinson, namesake of the Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust Fund, said the state's shift to a "housing first" approach "has gotten people off the street who I was certain a year ago were lifers. If we get people housed and provide their basic survival needs, and then address chronic drug use or a mental illness that has kept them disconnected, we find they want to come in and stay."

A few of Salt Lake's soon-to-be former homeless — they're about to be tenants of Grace Manor, the 84 unit complex funded in part by the trust and set to open in three weeks — said last week that for the first time in as long as they can remember, they are regaining a bit of hope.

"Just the idea that someone cared enough to really help us, not just hope we go away, has given me what I never really had — a little dignity," a formerly confirmed and self-named "street dweller" said. "You don't get that from the way I was living, you don't get it from a night-to-night shelter stay. You get away from it and the stress of just survival, you realize you can have some dignity, and that is the real source and shelter and it's in yourself."

Most of these folks — "our homeless friends" — as Atkinson calls them, "are some of the wisest, most caring, dignified people you will ever meet. They just forgot for a while."

And some will forget again and again and will go back, she said. "But just seeing to their basic needs, whether they're in one of the new complexes or not, we can always provide blankets and coats and gloves and beds and meals."

Real help doesn't come without a lot of outside help, and there's always more than can be done, she said, noting that the long-term homeless comprise less than 15 percent of the state's homeless population, but consume more than 60 percent of shelter beds.

Last year, 100 homeless men and women with an average of three years on the streets moved into permanent housing. Tenants pay 30 percent of their monthly income to rent a small studio apartment. The rest is covered with rent assistance.

"The emergency shelter system wasn't created for them," said Kerry Bate, director of the Salt Lake County Housing Authority, which owns Grace Mary. "Research shows that only with permanent shelter will the homeless population be drastically reduced."

If every taxpayer put a check mark in the $2 donation box on the 2007 state tax return, an additional $1 million would be generated.


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