SALT LAKE CITY — Valeria Kolar, 58, said when she first arrived at Palmer Court almost exactly a decade ago, she "didn't have a lot of hope for life."
Kolar was homeless and in the midst of a "nervous breakdown" from living a life of trauma, which spun out of control after she said she experienced sexual abuse at a very young age.
That started a "life of nothing but addiction," Kolar said, using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.
Thinking back on that day 10 years ago, when Kolar first arrived at the then brand-new Palmer Court, the Road Home's supportive housing development at 999 S. Main, she said she felt lost and overwhelmed.
But then the woman behind the front desk took her hand and walked her around the building until she felt better.
"I just thought that was the most beautiful thing for anybody to do, you know?" Kolar said, her eyes welling with tears.
Now, Kolar said she's going to counseling three times a week and she's "actually having a life now." And she's finally able to "sleep at night and feel peace."
"I never thought it was possible," she said, wiping away her tears. "I love this place. Without it, I would have never been able to."
Just a little bit of human kindness has made all the difference to her, she said.
"I just really love these people. We're always put down, you know?" she said. "But the truth is that when we come up out of this, we're so powerful. I just thank God somebody gave us the chance to (find) that power."
Kolar was among dozens of Palmer Court residents who attended a celebration Thursday to mark the 10-year anniversary of Palmer Court's opening.
Homeless leaders and advocates, including the building's namesake, former Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, joined the celebration, lauding Palmer Court for helping change hundreds of lives over its lifetime.
Over the past 10 years, more than 900 men, women and children experiencing homelessness have received services at Palmer Court, according to the Road Home, which manages the facility. Of those, 47 households have called Palmer Court home for 10 years, and today 201 households — including 208 adults and 73 children — are living there, according to the Road Home.
"You inspire me. You inspire us," Matt Minkevitch, executive director of the Road Home, told the crowd of Palmer Court residents on Thursday, thanking them for "working hard to pay the rent" and for "the adversity that you've overcome."
Palmer Court, Utah's largest supportive housing development and the only one that houses families with children, acts as a transition point for Utahns to step out of homeless shelter and into housing. It provides support services on site, long-term case management and other programs to help people overcome chronic homelessness.
“Over the past 10 years we have seen great success in creating housing stability among our residents through permanent supportive housing at Palmer Court and our other housing properties,” said Michelle Flynn, associate executive director of programs for the Road Home.
Pamela Atkinson, a well-known homelessness advocate, recalled the day more than 10 years ago, at Palmer Court's groundbreaking ceremony attended by an unsuspecting DePaulis, who had no clue the building was going to be named after him.
Atkinson recalled how DePaulis' jaw "literally" dropped when the named was announced, drawing laughs from Thursday's crowd.
Atkinson also thanked the Road Home's staff.
"We have to look at what has happened in those 10 years," she said. "And what has happened is you have made a difference in people's lives. … You have allowed people to have a sense of hope, a sense of self-esteem and dignity. And for that, I thank you, because many of our homeless friends would have been lost without what has happened at Palmer Court."2 comments on this story
The Road Home, including Palmer Court, has seen some rocky times. Last year, a state audit of the Road Home found drug and health concerns in both facilities. Since then, Road Home officials have pledged to update policies to address the concerns.
DePaulis credited Palmer Court residents and staff for being "the air beneath our wings" and working to make Palmer Court a place to celebrate.
"We don't celebrate enough," he said. "There are always bumps in the road and ups and downs, but for the most part this is a site to be proud of."