Brandon Kitchen owns a home in Clinton, where he is rearing his twin boys with his partner.
He has a full-time job with Industrial Piping and Welding, which is putting him through trade school to become a licensed pipe fitter.
If all that seems unremarkable, it should be noted that less than three years ago, Kitchen was just getting out of a halfway house in Salt Lake City after serving 21 years in federal prison. He was homeless, alone and had no prospects.
Because it’s Christmastime, let’s call this story the “Miracle on Rio Grande Street.”
After foraging on the streets of downtown Salt Lake City, Kitchen made it to The Road Home shelter on Rio Grande Street and ran into Fred Ross, who at the time was a deputy chief with the city’s Police Department in charge of the metro unit that dealt daily with the homeless.
Ross, who now is the chief of the Utah Transit Authority Police Department, introduced Kitchen to the city’s Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST), which conducts classes for the homeless, giving them life skills as well as alerting them to other assistance programs and job opportunities.
Through that program, Kitchen eventually moved into transitional housing, where “amazing” workers helped him get a Social Security card and a job as a tree planter at Progressive Plants in Copperton.
He eventually became a manager and then moved on to Industrial Piping and Welding.
Kitchen is a success story in the fight to get homeless people mainstreamed into society. He was featured on the opening day of the legislative session last January by House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who used his example as an inspiration to do more for the homeless in Utah.
Ross keeps in touch with Kitchen almost every other day — as he does with more than a dozen people he befriended while helping them at the shelter.
Kitchen also has been made a member of the Pioneer Park Coalition board.
Another success story occurred earlier this month, when Okland Construction — with help from Utah Jazz officials — tapped a dozen homeless people to help tear down a large wall outside The Road Home. Eight of those workers then landed full-time construction jobs.
Such projects can be a win-win, Ross said, because there is a shortage of construction workers in the Salt Lake Valley.
Another little miracle, Hughes said, is what has been happening in the Rio Grande area since some police sweeps took place there several months ago.
Before, Hughes said, the homeless were exploited by drug dealers and other criminals. Now they are congregating back into the area in a different atmosphere.
“They’re still serving as many meals as they were before,” he said. “The congregations in the churches in that area are growing. And people seem to feel safer.” Before the police intervention, the homeless he encountered feared making eye contact. “Now they do. There is less apprehension.”
Hughes said that before, when people finished their meals at the St. Vincent de Paul dining hall, they left their trays on the table. “It was my job, when I volunteered there, to collect the trays and throw the garbage away. I know it’s a little thing, but now, most of the people are busing their own trays.”
Band of strangers • Here’s another feel-good story I will call the “Miracle on Interstate 80.”
Former state Sen. Scott Howell, a Pioneer Park Coalition board member, was driving east on I-80 and saw an SUV burning at the side of the freeway just beyond the 1300 East exit.
The driver had run into the back of a semi, knocking her vehicle on its side and triggering her air bag, whose impact knocked her out.
Howell pulled over at the same time other cars stopped and a half-dozen individuals dashed to the woman’s aid.
“Because the car was on fire, we were afraid it was going to explode,” Howell said. “The woman was unconscious, lying on the passenger seat. We were worried about moving her because we didn’t know if she had a broken neck or spinal injury. But we had to get her out of there fast.”
They grabbed the luggage cover from the back of the woman’s SUV and used it as a stretcher to move her out before the paramedics arrived.
Howell got the name of one of the rescuers, who all went on their separate ways after the woman was safely in an ambulance.
That helper was Ruth Zimmer, an anesthesiologist, “who knew exactly what to do,” Howell said.
Another rescuer was a “shirtless guy with tattoos all over his body who looked kind of scary,” Howell said. “But he was incredible, and you could see his compassion.”
The rescue occurred about three months ago, but Howell was curious about what happened to the victim, whose name the helpers learned by getting her identification from her purse before turning that over to the paramedics.
Her name is Heather Lund, and Howell recently looked her up on Facebook, then sent her a message, letting her know he was one of the people who helped her and hoped she was doing OK.
“Thank you so much, Scott, for both reaching out to me and helping me,” she wrote back. “I had been told there were so many people who helped me at the scene of the accident. I am so thankful for all the amazing people who helped me and I know I wouldn’t be here without them and you. My life has been forever changed in so many positive ways by this accident.”
So, a belated merry Christmas, everybody.