Hugger Mugger Benefits Salt Lake’s Homeless through The Road Home
Less than a block from one of Salt Lake’s premiere piano studios and a luxury rug gallery, about two dozen men mill about an empty lot adjoining Catholic Community Services. The weather is kind on this crisp January afternoon—clear, blue sky dotted with a few friendly clouds. In a few hours, women and children will join the men, lining up in front of the sprawling brick building across the street to claim a warm bed for the night. They know they will not be turned away. If The Road Home’s permanent beds fill up tonight, their staff will set up as many temporary cots and mats as they need to ensure everyone who comes to their door will have a warm, safe place to sleep.
The Road Home was founded in 1923. Originally called Traveler’s Aid Society, the group formed to support travelers stranded in the city. By the early 1980s, their focus had shifted to caring for Salt Lake’s growing homeless population. According to the organization’s associate executive director of programs, Michelle Flynn, early on The Road Home gave the homeless temporary shelter in Quonset huts and mobile homes scattered around the city. In 1988 former Mayor Palmer DePaulis formed a coalition of local businessmen who raised money to buy the organization’s current building a few doors down from the historic Rio Grande train depot. On a typical winter night, this building houses upwards of 400 single men, more than 80 single women and 31 families. Their overflow shelter in Midvale, Utah, can house 80 families.
It Takes a Village
The Road Home has a twofold mission: to provide emergency shelter for anyone in need and to support people to find suitable, permanent housing as soon as possible. Their staff of 120 people work 24/7 to provide all the services necessary to complete their mission. The Road Home is a secular, sober shelter. People “under the influence” are directed to Catholic Community Services, across the street. Their program is a study in community collaboration. Michelle cites seven main partner organizations—non-profits and government agencies—that provide daily support. These include:
- Volunteers of America: youth services including a homeless youth drop-in center
- Department of Workforce Services: employment assistance
- Catholic Community Services: serving lunch and dinner daily and providing a day center for adults
- Utah Food Bank: delivering food to stock the shelter’s kitchens
- Valley Mental Health: mental health counseling
- Local, state and federal housing authorities: rental and housing assistance
- Fourth Street Clinic: medical care, including family doctors, specialists and a pharmacy
Michelle says that the majority of families have incomes, but their salaries or benefits are simply not enough to meet their basic needs. In the past five years, there has been a 300% increase in family homelessness in Salt Lake City. In 2007 The Road Home assisted 166 families. That number increased to 615 in 2010. 2011 saw a 19 percent increase over 2010. Their family wing has 31 private rooms, a kitchen, playground and a playroom with furniture donated by IKEA. Michelle says their goal is to get families out of the shelter and into housing as soon as possible. The organization’s Rapid Rehousing program, which places families in permanent housing boasts a 91 percent success rate.
Palmer Court—A House of Hope
While most people who use the shelter stay less than two weeks, 10 percent of homeless population—many of whom suffer some sort of disability—are considered to be “chronically homeless.” Chronic homelessness is defined by 700 or more nights on the street. For these folks, The Road Home bought an old Holiday Inn in 2009 which they renamed Palmer Court after their benefactor Palmer DePaulis. Palmer Court houses men, women and families in its 201 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Amenities include laundry, exercise rooms, a computer lab, library and game room, lounge areas, and a courtyard with a playground and basketball court. Families can take advantage of Head Start classrooms and day care.
Volunteer Coordinator Kelsey Stark can’t begin to estimate how many volunteers help support the shelter’s work. Church groups, companies, organizations and individuals contribute countless hours, everything from manning the front desk to coordinating with the food back to sponsoring a weekly children’s book club, movie nights and budgeting classes. She says various groups volunteer almost daily at the shelter.
The Road Home receives most of its funding from individuals and private corporations, but also relies on federal, state and local government funding. Kelsey is proud to add that only six percent of all the money that comes in goes to administrative costs. Shelter workers are a dedicated bunch, she says. “We’re all here because we love it.”
From January through March 2012, 1 percent of Hugger Mugger’s net sales will go to The Road Home. To find out how you can help keep Salt Lake’s homeless safe and warm this winter, look for a post next week!