After years of debate, Provo opening its first homeless shelter
To Brent Crane, executive director of the Food and Care Coalition, it didn't seem right to have 38 rooms with beds made and pillows plumped but no homeless person invited to stay.
So, beginning Jan. 13, the Food and Care Coalition will open Utah County's first emergency homeless shelter at its four-year-old building southwest of downtown Provo.
"This is unconscionable to have this facility all done â¦ and people are freezing out on the streets," said Crane.
The second floor of the $6 million Food and Care Coalition's building was completed in 2011 for transitional housing, a structured and longer-term kind of program for homeless men and women.
It has been used only briefly, by a company that was contracted to offer the program but went out of business.
Now the rooms will be used to temporarily house homeless men and women for as few or as many days as they need to get resettled; it will be hybrid, of sorts, between a shelter and transitional housing.
A ribbon-cutting is planned for Friday.
Linda Walton, a volunteer at Food and Care and chairwoman of the Utah Valley Ministerial Association, said many residents are unaware Utah County has homeless people "because they're not visible. They stay in their cars, or in a forested area by the lake or mountains."
Increasingly, many are among the working poor, people who make wages so low they can't afford rent, she said.
Utah County has roughly 70 homeless residents at present, but the population sometimes swells to 300 in summer, Crane said.
In the past, those in need of emergency shelter were given vouchers for local motels or, occasionally, were sent to The Road Home's overflow shelter in Midvale.
The coalition is not using the word "shelter" to describe its new service, and indeed the coalition's facility is nicer than most shelters, with private rooms rather than dormitories.
But, Crane said, it's just a matter of semantics.
"It's the first dedicated housing program for the homeless," he said.
At the time construction began in 2008, the federal government encouraged transitional housing, which typically provides for stays longer than 30 days, over emergency shelters.
Transitional housing was also more palatable to Provo city leaders, who were reluctant to approve a homeless shelter out of fear it would attract transients to the city.
"While that (later) view does hold some merit, it doesn't acknowledge a problem that exists in our community," Crane said.
The coalition secured a conditional use permit from the city to build transitional housing; until recently, the coalition's board thought the permit precluded emergency homeless housing.
But now the city is interpreting the permit to allow an emergency homeless shelter, Crane said.
Crane believes it will reduce traffic and better serve the homeless, who already come to the Food and Care for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or for free showers, laundry and dental care. Food and Care serves more than 80,000 meals a year.
The coalition also provides case management and partners with Wasatch Mental Health to provide mental health services at the center.
Fundraising to pay for the operation continues, but Walton said the shelter is really "the first step" in taking care of Utah County's homeless population.
"We probably can use additional shelters, one in the north and one in the south," she said.
The Food and Care Coalition will have a ribbon-cutting at noon on Friday for its second-floor homeless housing. The coalition is at 299 East 900 South in Provo.