Utah homeless service providers put out call for volunteers ahead of big move to three new resource centers

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "We could definitely use some volunteers," said Kathy Wagner, who has been putting in 9- and 10-hour days this week, sorting clothing donations, racking shoes, sorting food and doing laundry as a volunteer for Volunteers of America. Three new homeless resource centers are slated to open this summer and on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, Volunteers of America requested the public's help, calling for volunteers to help support the transition.

Kathy Wagner says she’d always wanted to volunteer during her retirement, so after she left her job as a school secretary, she started putting in a few hours a week with the Volunteers of America, Utah.

Then she got hooked.

Several years later, she’s spending anywhere from 25 to 28 hours each week washing clothes, serving meals, sorting donations and cleaning out the pantry at the VOA Youth Resource Center. Over the holidays, she works up to 45 hours.

“I didn’t ever realize how much I was going to get out of it,” Wagner said Wednesday. “I started out thinking I was doing something for others, but I get so much out of this.”

As the VOA and other service providers prepare for the opening of three new homeless resource centers in the Salt Lake Valley, they say they’ll need many more people like Wagner to pitch in. On Wednesday, they gathered at the Youth Resource Center to put out a call for volunteers and donations as they prepare to open the first of the three new shelters over the next couple weeks.

The VOA will operate the 200-bed women’s facility — the Geraldine E. King Women’s Resource Center at 131 E. 700 South. Catholic Community Services of Utah will run the 200-person coed center on Paramount Avenue, while The Road Home will operate the 300-bed men’s shelter in South Salt Lake.

The three resource centers are part of a shift to a dispersed model for providing homeless services and will replace The Road Home’s downtown shelter, which is expected to close in October.

Kathy Bray, CEO of VOA, Utah, said her organization is looking for groups of about 20 to serve lunches and dinners at the women’s shelter and has a need for donations of items such as shoes, socks, clothing, underwear and hygiene products. She and other providers said their volunteer and donation needs are listed on their websites.

Kallie McKown of Catholic Community Services said her group will need volunteers and donations for the new coed center and for its ongoing downtown services at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall and the Weigand Homeless Resource Center.

“We wouldn’t be able to help those in need without the support of our volunteers,” McKown said.

“I want to thank everyone who’s ever picked up a phone or a shovel or a broom, answered a question, put together a hygiene kit, helped serve a meal. You’re critical. You’re essential to our efforts. And you define us as a community,” said Matt Minkevitch, The Road Home’s executive director.

Pamela Atkinson, a longtime community advocate, said the new resource centers are full of daylight and “conducive to healing," a welcome contrast to the cramped and dark downtown shelter slated for closure. These new facilities, together with caring volunteers, have the potential to give hope to individuals experiencing homelessness, she said.

“These centers, with the help of volunteers, are going to help what we call human dignity,” she said. “But we need the community to step up and help.”