Here’s how to support Utah’s homeless services while filing your taxes

Tax filers can donate toward emergency and housing services across the state.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Governor Spencer Cox and community advocate, Pamela Atkinson, are pictured at the Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust Fund tax season campaign launch in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022.

Alma Bennett says she’s started cooking again since moving into her apartment at Pamela’s Place, preparing simple meals of pasta tossed in olive oil and tomatoes and sometimes sharing them with other residents in the Salt Lake City housing complex.

Before landing a spot in the subsidized community, she’d been homeless for about five years, spending time in the now-closed downtown emergency shelter and later in the Geraldine E. King Women’s Resource Center. Having her own home has made a huge difference in her life, she said Tuesday.

Bennett says she appreciates having her own bathroom, so she doesn’t have to wear shoes to shower, as she did when she was staying in the resource center. She loves the privacy and the peace and quiet.

“The wonderful thing is that when you walk into your home, you close the door, and you leave whatever’s going on out there, out there,” she said. “It’s great to have your own place.”

Bennett is one of 100 residents at Pamela’s Place, which opened in September 2020 at 525 S. 500 West. And on Tuesday, Gov. Spencer Cox and homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson — after whom the apartments were named — teamed up to urge Utahns to make donations so this and other communities like it can stay in operation.

People can do that by listing a contribution to the Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust Fund on their tax forms. They can also donate through the Utah Department of Workforce Services website.

The fund, which has about $2.2 million in the current fiscal year, helps pay for services and other operating costs at supportive housing complexes such as Pamela’s Place.

“It’s just been a huge, literal lifesaver for so many,” Cox said of the community during a Tuesday news conference. “It’s not just about putting people with a roof over their heads. It’s more than that. It’s helping them get whole.”

Cox and Atkinson toured the complex on Tuesday, checking out one of the studio apartments, which come furnished with a bed and table. Pamela’s Place also has a gym, laundry facilities and an attached clinic where residents can access health care services.

“It’s just wonderful to see people that I last saw in the old Road Home [downtown shelter], people that I saw out on the streets living a life here because people care,” said Atkinson, an adviser to Cox and a member of the State Homeless Coordinating Committee.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alma Bennett, a resident of Pamela’s Place Apartments, is interviewed in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022.

Homeless advocates have been calling for many more permanent supportive housing complexes such as Pamela’s Place, which offer subsidized rents and wraparound services. Tricia Davis, assistant director of the state’s office of homeless services, said these communities have a great track record — with about 95% of residents in Utah’s permanent supportive programs remaining housed.

Building these communities is just the first step, she said, adding that providing continuous services is essential to their success.

“We call it wraparound services. I imagine it as wrapping our arms around a person to really help them,” she said. “Housing is the foundation, and then it’s healing and growth that needs to happen after that.”

The nonprofit Housing Authority of Salt Lake City runs Pamela’s Place with financial assistance from the Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust Fund. The fund also helps pay for emergency services at shelters and soup kitchens, supportive services and housing services across the state.

Britnee Dabb, deputy director at the city’s housing authority, said Pamela’s Place operators try to build a sense of community between residents. They have a shared kitchen where residents can cook meals and sit down to eat together, and they host events to bring people together.

Bennett said she knows many of her neighbors and enjoys spending time with them during regular coloring nights.

“We all are a community,” she said. “And being homeless, you know how to take up for each other or watch out for each other.”