Apartment complex for homeless seniors celebrates grand opening

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Six years into a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Salt Lake County, hundreds gathered for a ribbon cutting Wednesday. They celebrated the opening of a project that some considered controversial.

Those who came to celebrate the new 70-unit apartment complex opening represented many organizations. The complex, located near 3000 South and 3600 West, is home to people 55 and older with physical or mental disabilities.

"This facility represents that kind of thinking of taking in a stranger, of taking in one who needs help at this time; and also, importantly, it represents the outreach," said Bishop Richard C. Edgley, who was representing the Humanitarian Services program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

10-Year Action Plan
  • End chronic homelessness by moving people off the streets and into permanent, supported housing
  • Expand access to affordable housing and reduce overall homelessness by 40 percent
  • Prevent homelessness by easing people's transition from domestic violence shelters, jails, prisons, mental health institutions and foster care
  • Create a statewide database to chart outcomes and drive change

"Really, it is all of you who are sitting here today, and standing -- this great crowd and many, many more -- who really show us what the spirit of Utah is," said Palmer DePaulis, executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services.

For more than 20 years, Kelly Benson has worked to help the homeless and mentally ill. The new apartments are named for him. The corridors are wide enough for wheelchairs or walkers, and each apartment has a living/dining room, kitchen, bath and two bedrooms.

"Everybody worships the one person who couldn't find a room for the night. I think that makes these special people," Benson said.

Denise Martinez was homeless, living along the river. Now she's a new resident.

"A bathroom and a shower and a bed -- I fell off of the bed twice because I wasn't used to sleeping on a bed, used to sleeping in a tent," Martinez said.

As the apartments were being built, there was controversy with the neighbors who worried about who would be living there. Now, as their children pass through the property on their way to and from school, they wave to the residents.

"They think these residents are cool. What a long way we've come!" said community advocate Pamela Atkinson. "Our friends, the residents who may have been homeless once, are full of dignity and deserve our respect and our love."

Representatives from government agencies, businesses, foundations and faiths echoed one another Wednesday in the belief that recovery and independence is possible for those who are homeless.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com


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