The conditions of the Rio Grande area in Salt Lake have attracted widespread attention in the media for some time. The recent disclosure of Mayor Ben McAdams' experience of “homelessness” has created additional opinions about how best to address the complex problems of homelessness and crime in the area.
I would like to share my thoughts as a former member and chair of the Board of Trustees of The Road Home. Although I’m not currently on the board, I have remained actively engaged with the organization.
The Road Home staff is comprised of a team of dedicated and compassionate individuals whose mission it is to help people step out of homelessness and back into the community. The Road Home operates the emergency shelter on Rio Grande Street, a family shelter in Midvale and two Supportive Permanent Housing complexes: Palmer Court (201 units for individuals and families) and Wendell Apartments (32 units for individuals). In addition, The Road Home supports several hundred households in scattered permanent supportive housing units throughout our community. The organization is governed by the board of trustees.
It is important to note that The Road Home did not create the problems we are witnessing. Rather, they serve as a resource to assist individuals in need. The Rio Grande area is now a refuge for the people in need as well as a breeding ground for criminal activity. The Road Home has no jurisdiction over what occurs on the streets surrounding the shelter, only what occurs inside. The Road Home follows established procedures for the intake and care of nearly 900-1,100 impoverished people each night, many dealing with trauma, addiction, medical or mental health issues, unemployment and hunger. It is a daunting task — and those who have worked closely with the staff of The Road Home know the level of commitment they possess.
The shelter in the Rio Grande area operates as a first line of defense for those in our community who are experiencing homelessness. Most will use it only for a short time. Others will have recurring episodes and have more serious needs. Years ago, The Road Home recognized the importance of creating a stable environment to address the needs of the chronically homeless, and initiated a strategy for permanent supportive housing, expanding their services to include Palmer Court, veterans housing and other community housing initiatives. The program is effective, as 87 percent of those housed do not experience another bout of homelessness. The family shelter in Midvale was recently rebuilt and houses families working on returning to a stable family environment.
The causes of homelessness are complex and are often caused by multiple reasons. For many years, The Road Home has partnered with other agencies in our community dedicated to ending homelessness. Social workers on staff assist those in need to help find employment, obtain VA benefits, medical care, rehabilitation, Social Security benefits, health care, child care, Head Start, counseling, etc. The services are far-reaching and available to anyone.
The management team of The Road Home is well respected on a national basis for its leadership in providing services to the homeless, having received national recognition. Stewardship of donor funds, both public and private, is of critical importance as well. The Road Home has consistently received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, an independent rating service of nonprofit agencies.
I am appreciative of the focus by law enforcement and local and state government leaders on the Rio Grande area. I am hopeful it will bring much-needed resources to deal with the criminal element that has infiltrated this area of our city. I am also hopeful the dialogue within the community will continue — and focus on the multi-faceted causes of homelessness. If we continue to work together, I remain optimistic we can find solutions for both.
C. Hilea Walker is a former member and chair of the Board of Trustees of The Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City.