South Salt Lake • One week’s allowance — in this case, $5 — might seem like a lot in the fist of a 10-year-old girl, but when Emma Mitchell heard money was needed to help Salt Lake City’s homeless community, she didn’t hesitate to give it away.
“I needed to do this,” said Emma, whose Whittier Elementary School has its share of homeless students. “They wouldn’t have the stuff they need without this. Every bit counts.”
Emma’s $5 is among more than $1.2 million in contributions so far to Shelter the Homeless, the Salt Lake County-based nonprofit tasked with building three new shelters and resource centers by mid-2019.
Donations are being matched dollar for dollar — up to $10 million — through a challenge grant from the Larry H. and Gail Miller family, which owns more than 60 car dealerships and the Utah Jazz.
“If only we could see through the eyes of a child,” Gail Miller said Thursday after a South Salt Lake news conference to announce the progress in donations. “She probably won’t ever see [what the money does] but I hope she has the assurance that we’ll do the right thing with it.”
Donations so far have come in amounts large and small, from contributors that include governments, businesses, individuals and families, said Harris Simmons, who is both president of Shelter the Homeless committee and CEO of Zions Bancorp.
The Salt Lake County Housing Authority, for example, will kick in $1 million to the effort, an amount announced Thursday by county Mayor Ben McAdams.
Other large donations include $100,000 from the Shumway family of North Salt Lake and $25,000 from Comenity Capital Bank.
The rest has come from dozens of folks like Emma, whose pocketbooks could support modest amounts of $5 or $10.
The shelters are expected to open by July 2019 — when the downtown Salt Lake City shelter is set to close — and provide comprehensive, all-day services that would more effectively connect homeless people with jobs, drug treatment and mental health services and housing.
It’s a different approach to the problem, said Miller, who has a nephew who is both homeless and addicted to drugs, but one that will hopefully provide greater benefit to those in need and change the futures of the homeless children whose families are struggling to find a path to a better life.
“We can make a difference now by stopping this cycle of homelessness and bringing to bear services and places for them to get help,” said Miller, who encouraged the community to consider including donations to the project in holiday-giving plans.
The price tag for construction of the shelters is estimated at about $45 million. Roughly $16 million will come from state coffers as part of the Operation Rio Grande project launched in August to combat crime and drug addition in and around the growing homeless population in downtown Salt Lake City.
The rest — from private funds or corporate support — is an admittedly big ask from Utahns, Simmons said. But he’s not worried that the fundraising will fall short.
“This is a caring community,” he said, “and we’ll absolutely get there.”
For her part, Emma, whose parents, Bentley and Amy Mitchell, beamed as their daughter spoke at the news conference, is getting ready to donate another week of her allowance, money she earns by cleaning, reading and acts of kindness.
Her hope, she said, is it will help the homeless, especially kids, get food, clothing and other essentials.
“And maybe a place to live,” she said.