New Salt Lake City women’s homeless shelter almost ready despite wet spring

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite difficulties caused by a long-lasting and rainy spring, builders have almost finished the new downtown Salt Lake City women’s homeless shelter.

"The delays we’ve experienced include weather, the constant, everyday rain put us back slightly on our schedule, but the building will be ready by July 1," said Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, which owns the new centers.

Cochrane and other partners in the effort address homelessness in the area held a news conference Friday giving reporters a glimpse of the $14 million women’s resource center at 131 E. 700 South, one of three centers scheduled to open this year to replace the Road Home Shelter downtown.

The 60,000-square-foot Geraldine E. King Women’s Resource Center will start housing up to 200 women experiencing homelessness by the end of July or beginning of August, according to the Department of Workforce Services, a partner in the projects. June 30 was the original target date for opening all three new homeless resource centers.

The modern, open space will offer supportive services including medical support, life-skills training, employment training and housing navigation, Cochrane said.

It will be operated by Volunteers of America, with lunches and dinners brought to the center’s large dining space every day by Catholic Community Services.

Kathy Bray, president and CEO for Volunteers of America Utah, said the most exciting aspect of the first center is that it will be women-only.

"I think the women are really going to like it and they’re going to feel special. And that’s part of the healing, and it’s part of the empowerment that we’re hoping to instill because life has been pretty tough for these women," she said.

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"It’s the first time we’ve had the opportunity in our community to have that for a while, and so to have 200 adult women here with our supportive services, we hope that we’re going to be able to move people out of homelessness as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, the Gail Miller Resource Center for men and women at 242 W. Paramount Ave. is expected to welcome clients about two weeks after the women’s center. The third new resource center, on 1000 West in South Salt Lake, is expected to be ready in September. The combined cost for all three shelters is $62 million, the Department of Workforce Services said.

The Utah Legislature appropriated $20 million to fund the construction. Prominent Utah businesswoman Gail Miller pledged to match dollar-for-dollar every donation up to $10 million to help fund the centers. Donations have also included $4 million from businessman Pat King for the women’s shelter and $10 million from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for transitional housing.

Shelter the Homeless also continues to seek donations to fund the homeless resource centers. As of Monday, the nonprofit had raised more than $6 million out of its $10 million goal, Cochrane said.

The Road Home shelter will close in October after years of struggles. Legislators pushing to reform the homelessness system wanted the shelter to close June 30.

Until the Road Home finally closes in a few months, Shelter the Homeless workers have been trying to prepare Salt Lake City’s homeless community for the change.

"Like anything, change is hard for a lot of people. And where we’ve had the Road Home there for a long time and that’s pretty much a concentrated area where anyone that might be experiencing homelessness may go, either Pioneer Park or that Rio Grande area. So anytime that you have a population that’s used to a certain area, that has its challenges," Cochrane said.

Shelter the Homeless has held focus groups with the people "to help them overcome any anxiety, help them understand what we’re trying to do, and help them improve their lives. Most importantly, that this is a safe place to go," according to Cochrane.

Each resource center was designed for crime-prevention and to offer trauma-informed help, he said. In the women’s center, the women won’t all sleep in one large room, but instead in more isolated, smaller rooms "so that you control the noise," Cochrane said, and for better crowd control.

The shelter also has bike storage, a kennel area for companion dogs and a place where women can wash their pets, Cochrane said.

"Little things like that that might keep people out of a traditional homeless shelter, we’ve tried to think of those things and those barriers that keep people on the street, and we want to make sure that we can help anybody that might be in need of our services."

Each of the new resource centers will also have neighborhood advisory committees comprised of homeowners, business owners and people who work at hospitals and schools in the areas to identify safety issues in their neighborhoods, including people camping on the streets.

While officials hope those staying at the shelters will escape homelessness, Cochrane emphasized that there is still a need for more affordable housing and increased wages to help people escape homelessness. When housing prices soar, "homelessness is right there with it," Cochrane said.

Bray said the group is in its hiring and training process for the women’s resource center. The center will need "a lot of volunteers." For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit voaut.org.

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