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Midvale Journal

Midvale creates model for working with individuals experiencing homelessness

Apr 13, 2020 01:56PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Midvale City officials, police officers and members of the Pioneer Park Coalition pose with Robert Marbut (second from the left) in front of the Midvale Family Resource Center. (Sarah Morton Taggart/City Journals)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

Homelessness is a complicated problem that Midvale city officials, service providers and business owners are working to address, one meeting at a time.

Several years ago the city received complaints from local businesses owners about vandalism and loitering attributed to individuals experiencing homelessness.

“There was a desire by businesses to have their property rights and employees’ safety addressed in a joint committee meeting with the city, Unified Police Department (UPD) and Road Home leadership,” said Midvale Mayor Robert Hale, who took office after the meetings had begun.

The shelter coordination meetings have continued every month, with participation from a range of service providers including the Boys & Girls Club, Salt Lake County Library, Canyons School District, the United Way and Utah Community Action.

“The Road Home starts the meeting with their report, then everyone takes their turn,” Hale said. “This is a model that’s been shared with other cities in Utah. Coordination brings unity of direction to coordinate protective action. It helps protect residents (of the shelter) from abuses, helps keep kids off the railroad tracks, keeps vandalism away from businesses.”

The meetings seem to be helping.

“In the last year, we haven’t had any business owners complain,” Hale said. “(The shelter) has taught the youth what they can and can’t do, where they can go.”

It’s unusual for so many different groups to come together for regular meetings, but the benefits are clear. Heidi Lund, program director for The Family Support Center’s LifeStart Village attended her first meeting in March. She met members of the UPD who are working with the local homeless population and asked staff from The Road Home how to best help individuals who might need to move from one shelter to the other. Sarah Strang, deputy director of crisis services for The Road Home, regularly comes to meetings and learns something new each time.

“Sometimes we solve problems before leaving the table. Sometimes it takes longer,” said Patrick O’Brien, the RDA Housing Project manager for Midvale. “These meetings are very beneficial to the city. With the communication list, we can work together even outside of the group.”

The shelter coordination meetings have helped The Road Home work more closely with the local police force. “Strong partnerships with Midvale City and the chief of police, I can’t stress how essential that’s been,” Strang said. “We’ve created a model here in terms of partnership.”

“South Salt Lake now follows our model with officers in-house as well as surrounding areas,” said Randy Thomas, the UPD chief in Midvale. “Our future goals are better information sharing.”

“Safety has been adopted by our board as a top value,” said Michelle Flynn, executive director of The Road Home. “The officers assigned here are caring individuals. They want to keep families together and keep dangerous predators out. I feel good about how we’ve evolved that conversation. The officers are getting to know who the unsheltered are.”

In addition to the monthly coordination meetings, The Road Home’s Midvale Family Resource Center has made other changes in the past few years to reduce the amount of time families spend at the shelter. When families first arrive at the Midvale Family Center, located at 529 W. 7300 South, they meet with a case manager from Utah Community Action. The case worker first finds ways to divert the family from the Midvale Family Center, if possible. According to Flynn, 25% of families are diverted to alternative shelters.

“We help them find other resources and look through their own networks,” said Nathan Breinholt, housing homeless coordinator at Utah Community Action. “We diverted 20 families in February, which allowed (The Road Home) to shelter 20 other families.”

There is room at the Midvale Family Center for a maximum of 300 individuals, which usually works out to around 80 families at any given time.

The families sleep in a large room with movable dividers for privacy. There is a small playground outside and an outdoor area on the roof. School-aged children are bussed to local schools and younger siblings have access to the preschool area at the shelter. Families prepare their own meals in the kitchen using donated food. Lockers are available to store food they’ve purchased on their own.

“We try to get families out as quickly as possible,” Flynn said. “We’ve been housing first for many years. We connect clients with the services they need to help them remain stable.”

“We have a light touch for families who cycle through quickly,” Strang said. “And wraparound services for more vulnerable families who need supportive services to be able to maintain their housing. Wraparound services start in the shelter and follow them to their home after they move out. The Road Home’s strength is getting people into houses.”

The Road Home reported on a recent success story at the March shelter coordination meeting. A family consisting of two parents and two young children, one of whom is disabled, first stayed in the Midvale Family Center in 2018. The Road Home provided the family with rapid rehousing funding, enabling them to move to an apartment. After a year, the family became unable to pay their rent and returned to the center. However, their case manager had stayed in touch throughout this time and worked to keep the family on the waitlist for subsidized housing. The family was at the shelter for less than two months during their second stay and have now moved to more affordable housing where they pay 30% of their income for rent.

The Midvale Family Center has become such a model that Robert Marbut, the federal government’s top homelessness official, visited the shelter in February. After his tour, Marbut took note of the many things being done in Midvale.

“You need to connect services and housing at the same time,” Marbut said. “But it’s best to prevent, whether it’s 24 hours after eviction, or before evictions.”

“When people come to the shelter they are citizens of Midvale,” said O’Brien. “We want them to have positive experiences as citizens.”