Homeless shelter cash donations suffering in slumping economy

Story and photo by PARKER LEE

Cash donations to local homeless shelters are suffering in the down economy. And there are more people in need than ever before. The Salt Lake Rescue Mission has seen a staggering 500 percent jump in the amount of food they are giving to families, according to Executive Director Chris Croswhite.

Homeless people wait outside the Road Home homeless resource center in downtown Salt Lake City.

“We are seeing a significant increase in first-time homeless families. It starts out when a family has to decide between paying rent and fixing their car. They choose to pay rent, then they can’t get to work on time and they get fired. Then they lose their house or they get evicted,” Croswhite said.

The list of donors to the Road Home in downtown Salt Lake has remained fairly steady. It is how much they are actually donating that is making the difference.

“Our private donors from before the recession are all still donating, for the most part. They just aren’t donating as much,” said Benita Flores, an administrator at the Road Home. “So where people were donating $50 before, they might only be donating $25 now.”

The Rescue Mission of Salt Lake has experienced the same ebb in cash donations. Croswhite said they too have had their donors stick around, but they have also cut back on the money they have donated.

For shelters like the Rescue Mission and the Road Home, rounding up resources for a family of five is much more of a challenge than helping a single man or woman that comes in and this isn’t likely to change in the near future. The government sponsored “Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program” is going bankrupt. The program was started in an effort to get homeless families off the streets.

It was receiving funding from President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill. But the growing number of jobless Americans has caused the program to run out of money. All indications are that the program will be cut from the federal budget. This cut will leave those homeless out in the streets.

While homelessness numbers have been on the rise, so have the number of people wanting to help. Volunteer efforts have greatly aided with the rise in the homeless population. Croswhite and the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake have been very pleased with the efforts of volunteers. “Volunteer help has been phenomenally consistent through the recession,” Croswhite said. “People have been very generous.”

Flores said volunteers at the Road Home have also remained steady.

Cost-free assistance from volunteers makes a big difference when funds are tight.

Fortunately for the homeless population, the tightening budget has not affected their ability to take advantage of the shelters. The Road Home has not had to limit its numbers or turn anybody away. The Rescue Mission will only turn people away if they are inebriated.

Flores said they see their highest numbers between November and April due to the colder temperatures. During those months they have a satellite shelter in Midvale that they open up for any overflow at the downtown site. “We are able to handle high numbers because we’re prepared,” said Flores. “We plan for the increase being around the first of November and we’re ready.”

But simple math tells us that a decline in monetary donations and a rise in homeless people don’t add up, as pointed out by Flores. “There are a bunch of people dipping into the same pot,” Flores said. “And there isn’t as much in that pot. That makes what we do more challenging.”

The Rescue Mission of Salt Lake has actually seen an increase in the amount of food and clothing donated.

With the increase of clothing donations, the Mission recently set up a program with Glendale Middle School to encourage kids who lack housing or clothing to stay in school. If the kids go to school for 30 consecutive days without an absence, the Mission gives them a pair of jeans.

To donate time, clothing or money to the Salt Lake Rescue Mission, visit www.rescuesaltlake.org. Information about how to volunteer at the Road Home is available at www.theroadhome.org/becomevolunteer.