Despite a long history of concerns with the old Road Home shelter in downtown Salt Lake City, the organization was selected to run the largest of three new homeless resource centers.
Volunteer coordinator Susannah Brooks responded to public criticism of the decision to use The Road Home to run the Men’s Resource Center in South Salt Lake.
“If you have any questions, come volunteer,” she says.
Brooks provided The Globe with a tour of the new facility. With free laundry rooms, a volunteer-based barbershop, two classrooms and a computer lab, this new facility appears to be an upgrade from what many staying at the shelter are accustomed to.
Brooks also says The Road Home has hired extra staff members, specifically for veteran clients.
“They deserve their benefits, and we are committed to helping them receive them in full,” she says.
Brooks says she believes one of the biggest struggles for those experiencing homelessness is “a lack of affordable housing in Salt Lake.”
While she admits there are several factors that contribute to the problem, Brooks hopes to see more affordable housing built in the city in the near future.
The Globe spoke to some clients staying at The Road Home men’s facility. One resident, who asks to remain unnamed, says he never used The Road Home’s services prior to the opening of the new center due to its reputation of being a dangerous environment.
While he says he is grateful for the center, he also sees room for improvement.
“The resources that were promised to us are still unavailable, and the provided shuttle system runs at such odd times that getting to a job interview or downtown to utilize other resources is extremely difficult,” he says.
“We’re only given 15 minutes with the caseworkers, and the computer lab is still just a room full of desks, so searching for a job that fits our skill set is impossible,” he adds.
The closing of the downtown shelter also presents concerns at Salt Lake Community College, especially for campuses closer to the city center.
“We saw a major influx [of those experiencing homelessness on campus] in the beginning, but it quickly tapered off with the addition of the winter shelters,” says Shane Crabtree, director of public safety at SLCC.
Crabtree adds: “Students need to understand it’s not illegal [for them] to be on campus. The buildings are state-owned, and we cannot make them leave unless they’re doing something unlawful. We also have several students currently experiencing homelessness, and we want them to feel safe and welcomed on campus as well.”
Crabtree says he wants to make sure all students have a safe learning environment free of property theft and other petty crime. The South City Campus has added a safety officer to ensure there is always a security presence during campus hours.
“Take care of your things and don’t leave valuables visible inside your cars,” Crabtree says.
Crabtree stresses that if any student feels unsafe walking to their car, they should use the buddy system or call for a campus escort.
SLCC also provides a food pantry for students and staff in need, but Thayne Center director Sean Crossland says the pantry is not enough.
“It’s a great resource, but can’t support a student in crisis,” Crossland says.
Crossland says he’s excited to announce that the Thayne Center is in the process of requesting a new coordinator for the Basic Needs Task Force. Responsibilities would include organizing and maintaining the food pantry, as well as gathering new resources and creating an efficient referral system with a systematic approach.
“The pantry needs more help; it’s just not sustainable in the long run without it,” Crossland says.
As the center seeks the necessary funding, Crossland also asks for student support by reaching out to the Student Fee Board and its director, Dr. Chuck Lepper.
“Please voice your opinions. This is a challenging process with a lot of competing priorities,” Crossland says.
Crossland hopes to have the new position staffed by the end of the summer.
Inside the Bruin Pantry