Catholic Community Services launches program to help people experiencing homelessness find a path to self sufficiency through cooking

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) A Metro Support Deputy Chief drives by Catholic Community Services of Utah as homeless men and women wait outside, Dec. 16, 2014.

Ahead of major shifts planned for homeless resources in Salt Lake City this fall, Catholic Community Services of Utah announced plans to create a new hands-on job training program it hopes will help foster self-sufficiency and hope for those on the streets.

The organization broke ground Tuesday on an expansion of its downtown Salt Lake City facility that will house its new Homeless Kitchen Training program. The 14-week course aims to teach those experiencing homelessness the skills they’d need to gain employment in the restaurant industry.

“This kitchen and the training they will receive, this will give many of our homeless friends hope” and increase their self-esteem, said Pamela Atkinson, an advocate for the homeless, at a ceremony at Catholic Community Services (CCS) on Tuesday.

After a blessing of the building from Catholic leaders, Atkinson and others involved in homeless services put their shovels into the ground in a symbolic marker of where the new kitchen will be.

Daniel Smithwick, who participated in the groundbreaking ceremony and has been homeless for the last year, said he’s looking forward to participating in the program, which he sees as a way to “get back on my feet.”

“This is work and people should take advantage of it,” he said. “It’s very beneficial for the ones who participate in it. And it’s a way out of here.”

The Homeless Kitchen Training program will play an “integral” role in Salt Lake City’s new homeless services system, said Matt Melville, CCS’s director of homeless services, and will come on line in conjunction with the three new Homeless Resource Centers scheduled to open this fall. Catholic Community Services will operate one of those new centers, a 200-bed men’s and women’s facility at 275 Paramount Ave. in Salt Lake City.

The resource centers will operate differently than traditional emergency shelters — serving specific populations and offering access to health services, a full mobile medical clinic and onsite case managers to help with services like job counseling.

In addition to culinary training, the new Homeless Kitchen Training program will provide trainees with one-on-one case management for job placement, housing and overall care.

Food service is an important path to stability for people experiencing homelessness, according to CCS. They can learn soft skills, practice teamwork and learn how to meet deadlines in a kitchen. The food industry also has lower barriers to entry than some other professions, meaning people experiencing homelessness may find it easier to find stable employment and are ultimately more likely to find pathways to management and higher wages. That, in turn, can help them find and keep housing.

Catholic Community Services plans to keep its current kitchen operations open during construction. The Homeless Kitchen Training program will begin in the fall and the first cohort of around 15 people is expected to graduate at the end of 2019.