Homeless Centers Face Growing Pains During Transition To New System

Oct 15, 2019, 6:59 PM | Updated: 10:11 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — As the temperatures cool this fall, more people experiencing homelessness are heading for the two new resource centers that are open. Beds available for women are filling up on a nightly basis and some women have already used the overflow shelter at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall — but officials said nobody will be turned away.

The Gail Miller resource center in Salt Lake City, one of two new homeless resource centers, has 40 beds for women while there are 200 beds at the Geraldine E. King Women’s Center.

On Monday night, they were all filled.

“It changes night by night,” said Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless. “Women are not being turned away.”

Right now, there are about 250 women seeking shelter this fall compared to 200 a year ago, which fills the available beds.

Women who show up at either of the resource centers without a reservation for a room go to coordinated intake which assesses the best plan for that person.

“There may be a better alternative pathway for that individual,” Cochrane said. “They might not need a resource center. They may not need shelter. They may qualify for housing. They may need substance abuse or detox.”

A lack of affordable housing is what landed many of the people at the homeless resource centers, and it’s that affordable housing issue that makes it even harder to get back into a better home.

“Every area in our state is experiencing a housing crisis,” Cochrane said.

Despite that, the executive director said, since the shelter opened, several people have already moved into long term housing.

“Our goal is not to build more homeless shelters,” he said. “Our goal is to build more affordable housing so that people have a place of their own.”

Part of that goal is working with homeless clients on a plan looking past tonight’s challenges.

“It’s more of a broad, holistic approach across the system to make it easier and more efficient so we can make sure we get people to the right place,” Cochrane said.

Numbers are also up because some women scared away from the homeless scene downtown are now willing to seek help at the new centers.

“Down on the block in the Road Home area it was very scary,” said Saoirse Grace, who is staying Staying at the Gail Miller Resource Center. “I felt threatened and I was accosted by men sometimes.”

Grace said she left an abusive relationship a year ago and has been homeless part of the time since then.

“I feel really blessed that I have shelter and food and a place to shower. It’s very nice,” she said.

She said she’s on more than 100 waitlists for affordable housing.

“The waitlists are two to five years right now because there is not enough affordable housing,” Grace said.

She said she is trying to stay optimistic, but called the wait “daunting.”

“It’s daunting because the waitlist is so long and there’s no other availability and housing,” Grace said.

Shannon Stephenson has been in and out of homelessness for five years. She also said she feels safer at the new resource center then she did at the shelter downtown, which is closing in about a month.

“It’s a much cleaner atmosphere than what you expected at the Rio Grande,” she said.

She’s hopeful she can get into long-term housing soon. But, she is also on waitlists for affordable housing that don’t seem to be getting any shorter soon. But she said she appreciates the help she’s getting at the resource center.

“There’s more happy people, even though you hear complaints,” she said. “The staff is more eager to go and help you more.”

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Homeless Centers Face Growing Pains During Transition To New System