Pamela’s Place: New housing project for the homeless named after Utah’s ‘Mother Teresa’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pamela Atkinson speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for Pamela's Place Apartments in Salt Lake City on Wednesday April 17, 2019. The development, named after Atkinson, a Utah-based humanitarian and advocate for people experiencing homelessness, will serve as a 100-unit permanent supportive housing complex by combining affordable housing assistance with voluntary support services to address the needs of chronically homeless people.

Pamela Atkinson has been an icon for decades, symbolizing to many Utah’s commitment to helping its homeless, refugees and other disadvantaged populations.

Now, the longtime advocate and faith leader — a woman Gov. Gary Herbert refers to as the Beehive State’s own “Mother Teresa” — is being honored with a new round of affordable housing in Utah’s capital for those who most need it.

Officials with the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City broke ground Wednesday on what will be called Pamela’s Place Apartments, a five-story, 100-bed facility at 525 S. 500 West that will be devoted to permanent supportive housing for the region’s chronically homeless.

In addition to affordable studio apartments, the completed building will offer residents access to a full clinic, dedicated case workers, a variety of social services and community spaces, and special facilities for gardening and pets.

“It’s not a homeless shelter,” said Dan Nackerman, executive director of the Housing Authority. “It’s apartments for people perhaps coming out of homelessness or perhaps just very low-income and needing some service.”

He and others said the new building had been renamed for Atkinson in recognition of her years of influence and service in the state as a humanitarian, advocate for the downtrodden and elder in the First Presbyterian Church.

Herbert said Atkinson was commonly the hub of the wheel in major projects aimed at helping the disadvantaged. And after reeling off a list of half-dozen influential groups she helps lead, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox described her as a mentor during his early days in office, taking him on a life-changing tour to meet her “homeless friends.”

Housing advocates and other officials spoke of her ability to unite people around vital causes and embody the values of love and understanding.

But, typical of a quiet, self-effacing approach, when it came time for her to speak, Atkinson told the crowd of about 100 project supporters and community advocates that the event was not about her and instead focused on a new facility devoted to changing lives.

The $13.6 million housing complex, she noted, will give 100 chronically homeless residents at a time a stable, rent-subsidized micro-apartment while they sort through other issues and look for employment — all in an environment rich in support services and with full-time case managers on hand to help with their transition.

“Let’s just honor the people who have been involved in this,” Atkinson said of the project, which drew funding from a range of city, state and private sources, including $640,000 from Salt Lake City and its Redevelopment Agency to buy the land.

“Today belongs to this building," Atkinson said, "and what it is going to do for a hundred of our homeless friends who are going to take those steps out of out homelessness right here.”

“Gosh, am I proud to be a Utahn this point,” she said.

The investment firm Goldman Sachs, the Olene Walker Housing Loan Trust Fund and the National Housing Trust Fund were key contributors to the project’s financing. It has also relied heavily on federal low-income tax credits, officials said.

The building was designed by Architecture Belgique, headquartered in Midvale, and will be constructed by general contractor Wadman Construction, based in Ogden.

Pamela’s Place Apartments is one of three facilities devoted to permanent supportive housing getting underway in Salt Lake City, based on what Mayor Jackie Biskupski said was a recognition that putting housing first was key to helping get unsheltered Utahns stabilized and back on their feet.

Once completed, Pamela’s Place Apartments and the other facilities will have 242 beds between them devoted to permanent supportive housing, the mayor said.

“That is significant,” said Biskupski, who added the new housing was “the clearest sign yet that when our hearts are in the right place and when we have the right people at the table, anything is possible.”