The Road Home served record 1,406 in emergency shelter on a single night

The Road Home served record 1,406 in emergency shelter on a single night

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Road Home sheltered 1,406 people on a single night this week, a record for the nonprofit organization that shelters, houses and provides case management to families and individuals experiencing homelessness.

As overnight temperatures plunged below freezing this week, record numbers of people sought shelter at the organization's downtown shelter and the overflow emergency shelter it operates at Catholic Community Services of Utah's St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall, said Matthew Minkevitch, executive director of the Road Home.

Meanwhile, the Road Home's Midvale Center, which provides emergency shelter and case management to families, is filled to its capacity of 300 people, Minkevitch said.

The downtown overflow shelter opened Nov. 16 after the Salt Lake City Council voted to budget up to $280,000 for that purpose.

In previous years, the Road Home's shelter in Midvale was open during the winter months. Earlier this year, the family shelter switched to year-round operation as part of a statewide legislative strategy to better address homelessness.

The Road Home had to dip into reserves to pay operating costs of the new Midvale Center until state funding became available. That meant the nonprofit agency was pinched to fund overflow operations downtown.

"We're grateful the City Council invested in our agency, which empowered us to open St. Vincent's. Without that additional site, this would not have been possible. We would not have been able to handle it. Even with St. Vincent's, things are rather tight," Minkevitch said Friday.

The record was set Tuesday, up slightly from Monday's headcount of 1,383 and 1,361 on Wednesday, he said.

The downtown shelter itself has taken in some 950 people on the busiest nights, Minkevitch said. Numbers of single men have spiked, with the shelter serving up to 664 in the shelter and in overflow on a single night.

"One of the things we're doing right now, which is helpful, is that we're getting families out through rapid rehousing. That creates flow. If we have more families leaving into housing than we have coming into shelter, that's one of the ways we can help to stave off demand and provide capacity," Minkevitch said.

The spike is "of concern," he said. Shelter use tends to drop at the first of the month, which is also the case at other service providers because people who receive Social Security benefits tend to fend for themselves for a couple of weeks but need help as the month goes on and they exhaust their benefits.

Shelter numbers dropped to just over 1,300 by Thursday night, Minkevitch said.

In the larger scheme, the record use of the shelter poses important questions for the community, he said.

"What are we going to do? Are we committed to get everyone in out of the cold? I know as an agency we're going to do everything we possibly can. That's how we are wired. That's how we work and our community has been there for us. We're doing everything we possibly can," Minkevitch said.

Rapid rehousing is one tool, but the vast majority of families who move out of shelter "are on thin ice economically, but they do remain out of shelter for the most part," he said.

According to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, rapid rehousing programs provide rental assistance and other supportive services to quickly move families and individuals from homelessness to housing.

The long-term solution lies in teaming with local and state governments and private partners to develop more permanent housing for families and individuals of limited means.

"It's the kind of approach we've taken, and we've demonstrated that it works. I'd like to see us amplify those efforts," Minkevitch said.

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