SALT LAKE CITY — As she opened the new supporting housing complex named in her honor, cutting a celebratory ribbon and hearing her virtues extolled by the likes of Utah’s governor, longtime homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson insisted the day be focused on the people the building will help — her friends.
“This really isn’t about me,” she said. “I just want to focus for a little bit on the people who are going to be living here, the people for whom this building came to fruition. And that’s our homeless friends and our low-income friends.”
The newly finished Pamela’s Place Apartments, located at 525 S. 500 West, is a five-story facility that will function as a permanent supportive housing complex for those in need, with a specific focus on helping people with disabilities.
To celebrate the building’s opening, officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the lobby Tuesday, introducing the facility to media and the public.
Atkinson was chosen as the building’s namesake in recognition of her years of humanitarian service and advocacy for the city’s homeless population. Comparing her to Mother Teresa, Herbert praised her caring and generous nature.
“When Jesus said in the New Testament, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ Pamela not only understands the words, but she in fact shows that by her actions,” he said. “She does love her neighbors as herself and does everything she can to help improve their situation.”
The housing itself consists of 100 units and will provide indefinite shelter to Salt Lake City’s homeless population. The “permanent” label “doesn’t mean people live here forever,” explained Daniel Nackerman, the executive director of the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City, during the ceremony, “but it does mean they don’t have to worry about being evicted or displaced.”
Ninety-five of the units are for persons with disabilities, including 10 for the physically handicapped, and five are for the homeless or nearly homeless.
In addition to the housing, the complex will offer a bevy of services to its tenants, including counseling, mental health services, physical health services and access to a psychiatrist — which Nackerman called “super unusual” for such facilities.
The building will have a clinic on its first floor run by Sacred Circle Healthcare, which is owned and operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation.
“Some of the magical part of the funding is actually the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation,” Nackerman said. “By funding the services, that really makes this project very unusual, even nationwide.”
Staff will be available to assist tenants 24/7.
“That’s the beauty of this center, the vision of Pamela, that we will be able to provide the support necessary,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson in her speech at the ceremony.
“We continue to be in a journey with homelessness,” she added. “It is an evolving need, as was mentioned. What we do know is that permanent supportive housing is very, very much a priority and key to self-sufficiency and success of our homeless population.”
In providing these “extensive support services,” officials hope such facilities help people not only get off the streets but also address the reasons behind their homelessness as well.
After all, changing one’s life is a lot easier when you have a bed and a shower and protection from the sometimes harsh Utah elements.
“We recognize that a housing-first philosophy is a part of correcting the problem of homelessness. Again, it’s not a matter of people having to earn their way to get into a housing project and get housing. It’s a matter of us helping the situation by if people have substance abuse problems, by treating the substance abuse — have them get past their addictions,” Herbert said. “All of that is more achievable if you have a home, if you have a roof over your head and a place of shelter.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony featured several government speakers, including the in-person speeches by Herbert and Wilson, and virtual thoughts recorded and delivered by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, who was particularly impressed by the building.
“What a beautiful facility,” Stewart said in his remarks. “Pamela’s Place is such a great beacon of hope for so many people. And it’s taken so much work and the dedicated efforts of so many of you to bring this beautiful facility so it’s not just a dream — it’s actually something that is going to help and bless the lives of people.”
The building’s construction took less than two years to complete and cost around $11 million, according to Nackerman. It was nearly all publicly funded, with the Utah Housing Corporation providing more than half of the money and the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency, Federal Home Loan Banks, the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund and National Housing Trust Fund contributing.
Nackerman also identified Goldman Sachs and Zions Bank as entities that were helpful in establishing the center.
“This one was relatively low-cost,” he said about the facility, “partly because of this long, narrow configuration, partly because the units are quite small. But we are very proud of how low the costs are compared to other tax-credit sites.”
“We’re not going to make any money on this project, and that’s fine with us,” he added. “We didn’t intend to from day one. We think the mission speaks for itself.”
Pamela’s Place was put together by developer Housing Assistance Management Enterprise, and the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City. Together, the two “promote and provide over 10,000 individuals affordable housing in the Salt Lake Valley.”
And they’re not planning on stopping anytime soon, with the groundbreaking for another facility coming on Oct. 18, according to Nackerman.
“We will just keep building and buying until there’s enough homes for everyone who needs them,” he said.