SALT LAKE CITY — Beset by homelessness by age 11, Stephanie Stephens says she has "lived a life of betrayal, addiction, mental abuse" and "not knowing that I mattered."
In her "need to be needed," Stephens recalls, she used to seek validation in unhealthy ways that kept her in a destitute state. That was until she started using the services of the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake in recent years — a decision she says restored her dignity and helped her live a productive life.
"Finding them was amazing and helped me understand the self-gratification that I was doing that kept me in my addiction. … They really want to help you, they really want to let you know that you matter, and knowing that you matter is a big thing for somebody coming from an addict (life) and a street life," Stephens said.
It is people like Stephens who the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation and Shelter the Homeless had in mind as they made a holiday season push Monday to encourage Utahns to donate to homelessness service providers through home4change.org.
That fundraising effort is a matching campaign put on to equal the $10 million that Gail Miller, business giant and owner of the Utah Jazz, pledged last year to give from the Miller Family Foundation to help fund the services offered at three new homeless resource centers expected to replace the Road Home shelter in downtown Salt Lake City when it closes in June 2019.
The promised funds from the Miller Family Foundation are donated on an even dollar-for-dollar basis to match whatever is donated through www.home4change.org, explained Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless. So far, about $1.6 million in public donations has been raised through the website, he said.
Shelter the Homeless is the nonprofit that owns the homeless shelter properties in Salt Lake City and Midvale, as well as the properties of the three new resource centers, none of which have been completed yet.
Making such a donation is more effective in alleviating the suffering of Utah's homeless than giving to a panhandler, according to Cochrane.
"Everyone who's experiencing homelessness needs help in different ways, and the contributions and donations that come into homelessness services can be put to (good) use," Cochrane said. "Giving a dollar to a service provider can go a lot farther than if you just give it to someone who's on the street."
The Miller family is renewing its push for matching donations from the public on the eve of Giving Tuesday, a campaign launched in 2012 to support charitable causes during the holiday season. On Monday, flanked by Gail Miller and others at the site of the homelessness resource center going up at 131 E. 700 South in Salt Lake City, Stephens told reporters that she knows firsthand just how much of a difference donations make.
"A lot of (homeless) people's excuses are they can't afford it — they can't afford to go to counseling," Stephens said. "The donations (help) us … (so that) we don't have to worry about numbers. All we have to worry about is time, and digging deep and understanding not being afraid — not being afraid to ask for help.
"The donations matter because it lets us know we matter, and honestly it's this thing that saved my life."
Zane Miller, an official with the Larry H. Miller Group and the grandson of Gail and Larry Miller, said donating is a way for Utahns to become personally invested in combatting homelessness and avoiding any sense of helplessness about it.
"Whether it's a house placement, job placement or any other needs, that's what these resource centers are providing — an opportunity for each person that's on the street, whether its an 11-year-old, a 16-year-old, a 40-year-old, a 60-year-old, it's there to provide an opportunity for people to get educated on the needs that they're missing," Zane Miller said.Comment on this story
"This is a great opportunity for the community to get involved and have their footprint in helping make a remedy to the homelessness, and (improve) the abilities of those people that can't provide on their own to get the education to be able to provide for their own."
Every small effort counts in supporting those who help the homeless, Zane Miller said.
"Whether it be a penny, 10 cents, a couple bucks, (or) a lot of money — however much you've got to give, we will match any bit of that."