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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Melvin "Bernie" Zambrano hugs his son, Patrick De La Cruz Hernandez Zambrano, at The Road Home's Community Winter Shelter in Midvale on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.

MIDVALE — A little boy padding around in pajamas pushes open the front door of the Community Winter Shelter. A blast of subfreezing air fills the reception area.

"We're gonna fix that door, I'll tell you that," said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, a Salt Lake nonprofit organization that shelters and provides intensive case management to homeless individuals and families.

Minkevitch has a long to-do list for the overflow shelter, and he's glad to have it.

The Road Home, in partnership with the local Shelter the Homeless Committee, has finalized the purchase of the 20,000-square-foot warehouse for $1.25 million. The building, wedged between railroad tracks in an industrial park, will require another $1 million in renovations.

"Take a good look around," Minkevitch said during a tour Monday. "It will never look this bad again. We finally have control of this asset."

The Road Home has leased the facility, built in the 1940s and originally used as a celery warehouse, since 1998. 

The shelter has shower, laundry and kitchen facilities. Dozens of cots and beds consume much of the space. Residents cluster their belongings around their beds.

"It's difficult," Minkevitch says matter-of-factly of the living conditions.

But it's a work in progress now that The Road Home has arranged to purchase the building. As a lessee, raising capital was next to impossible. The condition of the building was deteriorating over time.

Replacing the warehouse's leaky roof is a top priority. Other renovations include insulating the facility, remodeling the kitchen and bathroom facilities, flooring and structural reinforcements. Presently, the warehouse has a concrete floor.

Architectural renderings are still in the works, but Minkevitch said he envisions a playground for children who stay at the shelter.

"McDonald's has a playground so kids can play in the winter. Why can't we?" he said.

The Community Winter Shelter wasn't the place Melvin "Bernie" Zambrano had envisioned spending Christmas.

But Santa Claus found his son, Patrick De La Cruz Hernandez Zambrano, there, and for that he was grateful. This is the second time Zambrano, a single father, has stayed at the overflow shelter.

He and Patrick got into housing after their first stay in the overflow shelter, but Zambrano said it was unsafe and he opted to return to The Road Home.

"You can't risk your kids, so you have to consider that," he said.

Renovation of the winter overflow shelter will be welcome news to residents of the short-term facility, Zambrano said.

"I think it's great. What we got here is sufficient, but if they made improvements with the heating and the bedding, it would be better," he said.

Zambrano said most families he meets at the overflow shelter are grateful for a roof over their heads, especially as recent temperatures have dipped into the single digits — and below zero — at night.

To meet heavy demand, the winter shelter opened Oct. 1, it earliest ever opening. On Monday, 223 people were registered at the overflow facility. Minkevitch said the capacity of the shelter, as presently configured, is 300 people.

Patrick, 4, will soon enroll in a preschool program. Zambrano, whose wallet, driver's license and Social Security card were stolen from his car, is working to replace his documents so he can resume working.

The overflow shelter provides emergency shelter, connections to employment and public assistance programs administered by the Department of Workforce Services, and rapid rehousing services. Zambrano, who lost his tree service business during the economic downturn, looks forward to a fresh start.

"This is where it starts if you want to change," Zambrano said.

A fundraising effort is under way to pay for the building purchase and fund renovations, and "doing it in a way that we don't jeopardize our ability to operate," Minkevitch said.

The local Shelter the Homeless Committee, an asset-holding entity, has borrowed funding for the project. The Road Home will make payments. The committee includes advocates and representatives of government, business and nonprofit agencies.

"At least we're on the hill and climbing. It's our hill. It's our responsibility to fix up this place. It's as rewarding as it is challenging," Minkevitch said.

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