Slipping toward homelessness, a 69-year-old Utahn searches in vain for work and financial aid

Jim Lamm is fearful that if he becomes homeless, he’ll “never make it back.”<br>

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jim Lamm is about to become homeless and worries about how he will make January's rent on his apartment. Lamm has reached out to over a dozen agencies for help, but has been told that the agencies can't help him until he becomes homeless.

The holidays haven’t been so happy for 69-year-old Jim Lamm — he is about to be homeless.

Lamm has reached out to a dozen public and private agencies in Salt Lake County, seeking assistance to stave off eviction until he can find work. But he has had no luck. Some have said they can’t help him because he isn’t homeless or has not received an eviction notice.

There are several agencies that do provide limited rental assistance, but none is set up to pay Lamm’s rent for three months, which is what he has been looking for.

“I’ve worked all my life. I’ve never asked anybody for anything,” he said recently. “I don’t want charity. This is humiliating to me, but I don’t want to end up on the streets.”

Originally from New York, Lamm is a general contractor specializing in painting and tile. Since relocating to West Valley City in October, he has been on the hunt for work without success. He even has a website, www.precisionpaintandtile.com that advertises his company.

Beyond that, Lamm has been to four job interviews but hasn’t landed anything. Potential employers look at his resume and invite him for an interview. “But then they see my gray hair and wrinkles and things change,” he said.

Homeless advocates, service providers and government leaders all have intoned the maxim that it is much more efficient, cost effective and humane to help people before they are forced out of their homes, rather than sending them to a shelter with the ultimate goal of finding housing for them.

But a lack of funding remains a barrier for providers, public and private, as more and more people find themselves slipping into homelessness.

Lamm is fit, articulate and fastidious. He has a list of more than a dozen agencies he has contacted — or attempted to contact — seeking work or some kind of financial aid. And he has made notes of each of his numerous attempts at reaching out to public and private providers.

His meager Social Security benefit is less than a third of his rent. Lamm said he is doubtful he will be able to make rent Jan. 1. He’s fearful and frustrated.

“Once you get in this situation, nobody wants anything to do with you,” he said.

For more than 20 years, he made his living in Manhattan, mostly remodeling kitchens and bedrooms, he said.

He moved briefly to Florida but found it wasn’t for him. He had lived in Salt Lake City for several years in the ’70s and recalled it as a beautiful place.

“I decided to live out the rest of my life here,” he said.

Upon his arrival last fall, he was struck by the number of homeless people in Salt Lake City. “God help those people on the street,” he thought. “How are they ever going to make it?”

Now, he finds it disheartening to know that he may become one of them.

“The public has to know this: people like me become homeless,” he said. “At 69, if I become homeless, that’s it,” he said. “I’ll never make it back.”

He moved a few possessions, including an old motorcycle, to Utah last fall. After a lot of searching he found a place in a complex near Redwood Road and 3500 South. The rent is $900, but he also has to pay for parking, required rental insurance, required cable TV, water and sewer, gas and electric. All of that adds up to more than $1,200 each month, he said.

Lamm is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but admits he is not an active church-goer. Nonetheless, his first stop looking for assistance was at LDS Welfare Square. He said they referred him to The Road Home shelter.

He called 211, the help line for the homeless and people on the verge of losing housing. The call went to United Way, which directed him to Crossroads Urban Center, which directed him back to United Way.

Crossroads’ primary efforts are food and clothing for low-income and homeless people. Glenn Bailey, the agency’s executive director, said Crossroads does have a small, privately-funded program for rental assistance that helps three or four families each month.

“We have a limited amount of money,” he said, “and the need is great.”

Lamm called the Redwood Food & Resource Center, but both times a recording asked him to leave a message and they would return the call. So far, there has been no callback. The Tribune also left a message with the agency but didn’t receive a return call.

Lamm then reached out to the resource centers’ parent organization, Community Action, which offers rental assistance. But, Lamm didn’t qualify for assistance because he hadn’t received an eviction notice.

Joni Clark, chief development officer for the agency, said CAP prioritizes its grants and selects clients based on need. Each applicant must fill out an assessment evaluation. On Thursday, she said the agency had no record of Lamm.

But Lamm said when he explained his situation to the intake counselor, he was told he didn’t qualify and was not asked to fill out any paperwork.

He also sought help from Jewish Family Service. But like Crossroads, it has a small rental assistance program of about $1,500 per month, according to executive director Ellen Silver.

Each month, the funding goes quickly. But Silver said that come January the agency may be able to help Lamm but cannot pay his full rent.

“We try to help as many people as we can,” she said. “We leverage our money with other partners, like Community Action Program and LDS Welfare.”

Last year, Jewish Family Service helped about 300 people. The agency provides one-time funding and does not have the resources to help clients on an ongoing basis, Silver said.

Not least, Lamm has filled out form after form at the Utah Department of Workforce Services with no result. He’s been denied food stamps and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

He didn’t qualify for SSI, he said, because his 1999 Honda motorcycle was valued by the agency at $3,000 to $5,000, which put him beyond the threshold to qualify. That benefit would pay him a little over $300 per month.

“My motorcycle is the one thing left in my life that brings me joy,” Lamm said. “I’d be lucky to get $500 for it. But even if I did sell it, I still couldn’t make January rent.”

As the new year approaches, Lamm is looking in every direction for income. If he can get his car registered in Utah in time, he may be able to drive for Uber. But it takes a lot of fares to add up to $1,200 and he fears he won’t make it before he’s evicted.

“I’m surprised they don’t have a program for people that find themselves in this predicament,” Lamm said.