SALT LAKE CITY — Deb Raynor came to the Road Home about a year ago after she fled an abusive relationship.
In the time she's lived there — and from the time two years ago when she said she came to the Rio Grande in search of her daughter caught in the thralls of drug addiction — Raynor said she's seen a "night and day" difference.
She said Operation Rio Grande drove the drug dealers away — or at least more into the shadows. Inside the downtown shelter (after a slow start) new security procedures and check-in screenings have finally begun to bring a sense of order and authority that most now respect.
"It's helped us feel a lot more like we're worthy enough to be included in society," Raynor said. "Every day it gets better."
But there's still a lingering worry troubling the downtown homeless community, she said.
What's going to happen when the Road Home's downtown shelter closes later this fall? Where will they go? And how will they get medical, housing and workforce services that's now so concentrated around the Rio Grande?
"There's a lot of anxiety," Raynor said.
That's why Shelter the Homeless, the owner of the three future homeless resource centers now under construction in Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake, has held a series of focus groups with homeless clients as the first step heading into the monthslong transition into the new homeless system.
As of this month, the early phases of that transition has officially begun, Amy Russell, associate director of Shelter the Homeless, said Thursday.
"We wanted to get a feel for what people were feeling about this transition and what their concerns were," she said.
The aim was also to begin to educate the homeless population about what to expect when the new centers open. The 200-bed women's shelter and the 200-bed mixed gender shelter in Salt Lake City is slated to open in July. The 300-bed men's shelter in South Salt Lake is scheduled to open in September.
Many had questions about the services that will be inside the centers, Russell said. A handout being circulated by Shelter the Homeless and the Department of Workforce Services clarifies what services will be available inside the resource centers and what will or won't be allowed, including:
• Housing assistance
• Employment assistance
• Onsite security
• Personal storage
• Medical care
• Service and emotional support animals allowed
• Drugs and alcohol prohibited
Raynor said there are "a lot of different opinions" in the homeless community about the new rules and how far away each homeless center will be from downtown services, but she's hopeful since services are supposed to be located in the centers themselves, and perhaps the homeless community won't feel so "isolated" in the Rio Grande and Pioneer Park neighborhood.
Still, there's a sense of unease as state leaders ease into the transition years in the making, mostly out of fear for change, Raynor said.
"I think we just want to know more. We want more details," she said. "It will calm everybody and get us prepared for the road ahead."
Russell said the focus groups showed "we have some real education to do" as leaders gear up for the move, adding that the nonprofit intends to hold weekly information sessions at Catholic Community Services' Weigand Center, next door to the Road Home, as well as plans to reach out to people living on the streets to spread more information about what to expect from the new centers.
Russell acknowledged there's "some nervousness" — but that's not unexpected when dealing with the "unknown."
In the meantime, the transition is still "on track," Russell said.
Despite a snowy winter and now a rainy and muddy spring, construction is in its final phases on the two 200-bed shelters, with workers now turning their focus to the interiors. As for the delayed, 300-bed men's shelter, that still won't open until months later, but is still slated for September.
In the meantime, the homeless providers will work on hiring staff, conducting client assessments, and will continue to divert homeless clients to alternatives to shelter such as permanent supportive housing.
Even though "we're about to hit crunch time," Russell said, "we're really ready."8 comments on this story
A big challenge also remains, however. Shelter the Homeless still has millions to go to fully meet Utah businesswoman Gail Miller's $10 million match pledge. As of this week, Shelter the Homeless has raised about $4.4 million out of its $10 million goal, according to the nonprofit's website.
Raynor said she was lucky enough to recently be accepted for a housing voucher, so she hopes not to have to live in one of the homeless resource centers later this year. Instead, Raynor said she hopes she might be able to volunteer and "give back."
"I'm hoping that I'll be able to turn around and pay it back," she said. "I'm hoping for the very best."