Story and photos by SHANNON O’CONNOR
From an outsider’s point of view, a homeless person on the side of the road may look intimidating or unapproachable.
“I usually don’t pull over or stop to donate money because I feel like they will waste the money on drugs,” said Sadie Swenson, a Westminster College student. Swenson’s reasoning is a common opinion, but that isn’t always the case.
All homeless people don’t have the same story. They come from different backgrounds and are on the streets for various reasons.
Francis Reeding, 65, stands on the streets of downtown Salt Lake City for about six hours a day, hoping to get enough gas money to go home to California. He has been living out of his car for three months.
Reeding fought in the Vietnam War starting in 1968. When he got home from the war, in 1970, he experienced hearing loss and suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Later, Reeding went to the University of Utah in 1976 as a math major. But since then he has struggled to keep a job. Now he feels hopeless and apathetic to get his life back on track.
“It’s embarrassing standing out here holding this dang sign,” Reeding said.
Although it is common to see people holding up a cardboard sign, it does not mean they are all the same. The homeless need a helping hand and The Road Home, located at 210 S. Rio Grande St., can get them off the streets and into housing.
The Road Home is the biggest homeless shelter in Utah and is always ready to help men, women, children and families.
“Everyday I see people that I think are beyond hopeless and I see them make it and overcome homelessness,” said Celeste Eggert, Road Home development director.
Eggert has been with the agency for 17 years and has been the development director for 12 years. She fell in love with the shelter because of the clients’ strength and courage and she loves the mission of the Road Home.
The mission is to educate people about shelter and housing and to “get people out of homelessness and back into the community,” Eggert said.
How does this get accomplished? By the effectiveness and success of their programs: Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Rehousing and the emergency shelter.
“Collaboration is huge, many of the programs we’ve done have gotten national attention,” Eggert said.
Palmer Court is part of the Permanent Supportive Housing program. Palmer Court, located on 99 S. Main St., is an apartment complex that was purchased by the Road Home. It houses up to 300 of its chronically homeless clients. The chronic clients are people who have been homeless for one year or longer due to mental illness, addiction, or substance abuse. When they live at Palmer Court they sign a lease and pay rent that is reasonable with their income.
Eggert explained how the chronic clients need a slow transition from homelessness to living in housing. Being homeless is all they know and they’re scared of change, on top of trying to combat their personal trials. Specialists are needed for the severe cases. The Road Home is considered to be the general practitioner and they bring in the specialists.
“We try to collaborate, never duplicate services and work closely together,” Eggert said.
The agency partners with people who specialize in a variety of the clients’ necessities, such as jobs, rehabilitation, free medical care, school enrollment for the Salt Lake City districts and therapy. The combination of the staff, specialists and housing is designed to provide Palmer Court clients with a path to recovery.
Rapid Rehousing is the homeless family program. In 2009, it was brought to light that there was an increase in homeless families. Since the program was launched the Road Home reports that “87% of families on that program will never be homeless again.”
What is provided through Rapid Rehousing? According to the website, the families are offered “barrier elimination, housing placement assistance, short term subsidies and supportive services,” until they can get back on their feet.
The third program is the emergency shelter. This is for the clients who need a roof over their head for 24 hours. The men’s and women’s shelters consist of beds, bathrooms, showers, microwaves and hygienic products.
Elise Adams was homeless for five months and never stayed in a shelter.
“They have all these rules and they’re usually run by a church so the rules are often arbitrary. I think it’s easier to sleep in a park undisturbed,” said Adams, who uses a male pronoun.
Once he was informed that the Road Home is not a religious shelter, and there is the emergency shelter program, he admitted he would have stayed there.
Eggert said, “We don’t give up on people, we’re always going to work with them.”
Helping the homeless is financially beneficial for Utah and the community. But more importantly, it’s saving people’s lives. The majority of the beds are used by the clients who stay six months or more. Once individuals get the proper help, they can move up to housing and reach their full potential.
Eggert admits it’s a challenging population to work with. But she said it’s worth it because the staff, donors and volunteers are making a difference. The Road Home is a shelter that recognizes the clients’ unique situations and offers the support needed to overcome homelessness.