Opinion: Dehumanizing the homeless won’t solve Utah’s crisis. We’re taking a new approach.

Behind every face on the street lies a story untold, a narrative of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A room at the Switchpoint shelter in St. George on Friday, June 11, 2021.

I have found in my work with those experiencing homelessness that they are eager to be given a chance.

For the homeless, each day is a battle against the elements, against hunger, against the fear of violence lurking in dark alleys. Yet, amidst these challenges, there is a resilience that defies the odds. It’s the resilience born out of necessity, fueled by the unwavering hope for a better tomorrow. Despite their circumstances, the homeless cling to the belief that opportunities exist, waiting to be discovered, waiting to transform their lives.

When offering opportunities, they are gracious, even in their incredulousness at the seemingly lucky break. I often hear, “Really, you pick me?” There may be some redirection required, but overall, they work hard towards stability. There isn’t a desire to live on the streets, nor some lazy master plan. There is a hope for safety and security.

Opportunities are more than just pathways to financial stability; they are beacons of hope illuminating a future free from the shackles of poverty. Whether it’s a job offer, access to education, or a chance to learn new skills, opportunities represent a lifeline for the homeless, a means to reclaim their dignity and rebuild their lives.

Switchpoint believes in an intensive wraparound portfolio of services to lift individuals and families out of poverty. This approach, combined with employment opportunities at any of our microenterprises, access to 24/7 childcare, housing assistance and more, is coupled with the belief that opportunity comes with accountability.

One gentleman we took into our Point facility in Salt Lake City last year had been on the streets for nearly 10 years upon his release from prison. Not only did his record eliminate work and housing options, his time incarcerated halted any skill development. He even lacked the ability to read. We gave him employment in our kitchen, and he is truly blossoming. His health improves daily, as does his countenance and self confidence. He proudly pays his rent each month and shows immense gratitude in the simplest of circumstances.

Having a front row seat to these miracles of the human condition is humbling. Watching their success brings me back day after day. Every notch in the win column overshadows dozens in what I call the “not yet” column. They may not have found their success yet, but it may be waiting behind door number two, three or even four. Switchpoint is prepared to open these additional doors, when they are ready to walk through.

Yet, beyond the tangible opportunities lie deeper yearnings for safety and security. For the homeless, safety is not just about physical protection; it’s about reclaiming a sense of belonging, of being part of a community that values their humanity. It’s about finding refuge from the harsh realities of life on the streets, where every corner holds the threat of danger.

Security, too, extends beyond the confines of four walls and a roof overhead. It’s about having access to healthcare, to social services, to the support networks that can provide a safety net in times of need. It’s about knowing that there are people who care, who are willing to extend a helping hand without judgment or prejudice.

The homeless are often met with indifference or hostility, viewed through the lens of stereotypes and misconceptions. They are labeled as lazy, as addicts, as burdens on society, their humanity reduced to mere caricatures. But behind every face on the street lies a story untold, a narrative of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity.

What started as a shelter in St. George has grown into a statewide full service operation, and we are continually looking towards advancing the mission. We aim to house 1,000 individuals by year end.

As a society, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the plight of the homeless. Their struggle is not just their own; it is a reflection of our collective failure to uphold the principles of justice and compassion. It is a reminder that the true measure of a society lies not in its wealth or power, but in how it treats its most vulnerable members.

To truly address the needs of the homeless, we must confront the systemic inequalities that perpetuate their marginalization. We must invest in affordable housing, in mental health services, in job training programs that provide pathways to economic stability. We must challenge the stigma and stereotypes that dehumanize the homeless, replacing them with empathy and understanding.

(Photo courtesy of Carol Hollowell) Carol Hollowell

Carol Hollowell is the CEO of Switchpoint. Switchpoint’s model combines Carol’s years of business experience with her innovative problem-solving skills. As a serial entrepreneur, Carol developed Switchpoint to lift and empower individuals in their resolve to become self- sufficient. She was an EY award recipient in 2020, Governor’s Service Award in 2023 and the Lane Beattie Utah Community Builder Award.

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