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Katie McKellar, Deseret News
Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller and her family announce a $10 million challenge grant during a press conference at the Volunteers of America-Utah Homeless Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. The challenge aims to spur donations for programs and services in the new homeless resource centers slated to open in June 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor McAdams recalled when Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller asked him years ago — when work to transform the county's homeless services first began — how she could help.

At the time, Miller had already given $1 million, McAdams said, but she told him "I want to give a lot more."

"And then she turned to me and said, 'Where can I get my parking validated?'" McAdams laughed. "That's Gail Miller to a 'T' — she's generous and kind but wants to make sure that every penny is used to the ultimate benefit for people in need."

Miller and her family on Thursday vowed to match up to $10 million in donations for the three new homeless shelters in Salt Lake County slated to open in June 2019 — but not for the brick and mortar.

The grant, intended to spur donations from other community members for potentially a total of $20 million, is meant to fund programs and services inside the three resource centers.

To Miller, those funds will breathe life into the centers meant to lift people from poverty and homelessness.

"We can't just have a building that sits there. It's got to have a heart," she said. "It's got to have the things inside that make it work."

Miller choked back tears when she made the announcement, applauding those involved in the effort as "selfless, compassionate and caring people who make a difference."

"I applaud them and admire them. I wanted to make a difference myself," she said. "Together with this community, I believe we can all contribute to that difference as we provide help and resources aimed at changing lives in a positive way."

"We can't afford to turn our back on the homeless and those who are less fortunate," she continued. "We cannot afford to sacrifice the future of the children affected by homelessness. We must give them hope."

The Millers made the announcement at the Volunteers of America-Utah's Homeless Youth Resource Center, 888 S. 400 West, which county and city leaders say the new homeless resource centers will be modeled after.

Kathy Bray, president and CEO of Volunteers of America-Utah, told of how she recently saw her staff help a teen who had blistered feet because he was wearing shoes too small for his 12 1/2-size feet. She said they took him to Wal-Mart to buy a new pair so he could walk to job interviews without pain.

Bray also told of a case at the VOA's resource center for women and children in Murray, where a woman turned to heroin after becoming addicted to prescription opioids. Bray said the woman lost her job, her husband, her children. With the help of the resource center, she was eventually able to get clean, visit her children and find a job.

It's this sort of help, Bray said, that the Miller's family contribution will fund.

"It's so heartwarming," said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, "to work with the Miller family, a group of people who have already set a high bar for this community to follow."

McAdams said Miller has been as "constant as the North Star" in homelessness efforts, referring to her role on Salt Lake City's homeless shelter siting committee.

Biskupski and McAdams both pledged to donate, urging other members of the community to follow suit.

"We have a lot of work to do and, frankly, a lot of money to raise," Biskupski said. "So I ask this community, if you care about this issue and you want to be part of the solution, take advantage of this incredibly generous act on behalf of the Miller family and donate. Let's make sure we match every dollar being provided by the Miller family."

For construction of the three new centers and its programs, the state, city and county face a daunting funding gap of an estimated $24 million — though McAdams said those estimates are "fluctuating" constantly as county and city leaders continue to look for cost savings and donations of services "wherever possible," including construction and design work.

While Miller's donation is not meant for construction, McAdams said it's a "substantial" contribution to help "bridge the gap" while leaders work to transform the current service model.

"We're going to make sure every penny is used wisely," he said. "It's hard to say at this point how far it'll go because we're still building out the new model, but I think we're going to be stretching those funds as far as possible."

Those interested in donating can do so at homelessutah.org.