ST. GEORGE — Washington County is growing and with that growth, more people — individuals and families alike — are finding themselves without a stable environment to call home. For a variety of reasons, a sizable population in the county is currently homeless. Switchpoint Community Resource Center of St. George is taking part in a federally-mandated survey of homelessness called Point in Time.
Over a dozen different agencies are taking part in the study throughout the five-county area. The Iron County Care and Share is the lead agency for the program in Iron County.
Carol Hollowell, executive director for Switchpoint, said that the program is an essential tool for gauging the depth of the homelessness problem in the county.
“You’re certainly not going to find everybody in one day, so what happens is we take three days … Thursday-Friday-Saturday, and the question(s) that we ask everybody that we come in contact with is, ‘Where did you sleep the night of Wednesday the 27th?’ ‘How long have you been homeless?’ ‘How many times in the last three years have you been homeless?’ and, ‘Cumulative(ly), how much time have you spent in homelessness?’” Hollowell said. “It allows us to get a picture of: Are people chronically homeless? Are they just situationally homeless, like a bad divorce or lost a job? Then we know … what funding sources we need to either apply for or try and bring down to our neck of the woods in Southern Utah.”
The program goes beyond just counting heads and asking questions, Hollowell said. When participants take part, they are also questioned about what their needs are and an assessment is done to see what other help can be offered.
“As we do a survey with them, we ask them serious questions and find out about their barriers, hoping that we can help them right away,” Hollowell said. “As we go through those surveys, we’re saying, ‘Do you have any ID? Do you need help getting some ID? Did you lose your birth certificate? Do you need a job? Do you need some food?’”
As the survey got underway Thursday, Hollowell said that some of Switchpoint’s volunteers have been reporting needs for sleeping bags, jackets, gloves and food, and the resource center makes certain those supplies are delivered quickly.
We are able to right away make sure that people are safe and warm if they need to be or we encourage them to get them to come and sleep at the shelter …; some people don’t want to be in the shelter, and that’s understandable. If they need some extra provisions then we can handle that as well.
One of the people we met today said, ‘I didn’t even know there was a shelter in St. George.’ The volunteers who interviewed him at the Santa Clara library … that’s so not far away, he could even walk down or a volunteer could give him a ride down here, and now he can actually stay in the shelter tonight.
Getting the word out about the resources available to those who are currently homeless is one of the goals of the survey and Switchpoint in general. There are a variety of agencies in different areas of the county that can assist those in need, Hollowell said, with the ultimate goal to get them into permanent, safe and affordable housing.
“And, hopefully, with a job,” she said.
Switchpoint intern Sherri Dominguez said not everyone wants to take full advantage of the services offered at the center, although they will generally accept at least some of them.
During the first day of the survey, a chronically homeless man (who had been living in cardboard boxes) found out about the services there, and while he had no desire to stay in the shelter, he was very grateful to receive warm clothes, new shoes, a sleeping bag and food. New to the area, the man did not know about Switchpoint. Dominguez was hopeful he would utilize them in the future.
“He’s been homeless 12-plus years … he was not interested in living in a shelter, but I did tell him we offer more than that … you can drop in for a shower, you can drop in for food … we even have services for laundry and just basic needs, hygiene needs, everything, we can take care of that,” Dominguez said.
Another woman was living in a tent with two children, ages 11 and 15, with no blankets. She was given blankets, jackets, gloves, shoes for her children and food. But like the man Dominguez encountered earlier in the day, the woman was not receptive to many of the services Switchpoint offered.
“I told her we’d check up on her,” Dominguez said.
Thursday, there were five locations that are conducting the survey: The Santa Clara Library, the downtown St. George Library, Vernon Worthen Park, St. George Town Square and the Smith’s grocery store on Bluff Street. On Friday, Switchpoint is adding a sixth location at Grace Episcopal Church during its soup kitchen hours from 11:45 a.m. until 1 p.m. The first five locations will be open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The survey continues through Saturday.
For those seeking housing, the first step is getting them into the shelter, Hollowell said, and then after that, looking into grants that assist those in homelessness in acquiring apartments (through the Rapid Re-Housing program).
“We do a quick eligibility, and if they’re eligible, we try and help them find an apartment that they can afford or the grant dollars can help them until they can get the job … there’s a variety of ways they can get some assistance,” she said.
If people in the Washington County community know of anyone who is homeless, Hollowell said they should let those people know they can come to Switchpoint to get assistance and services.
UPDATE: Ed. note: Story updated to include other agencies involved in the Point in Time survey.
- Switchpoint Community Resource Center website | 948 N. 1300 West, St. George | Telephone 435-627-4663 | Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- 2015 Point-In-Time report at Utah.gov.
- St. George News February 2014 report: Point-in-Time homeless count finds 180 people
- U.S. Housing and Urban Development page on the Rapid Re-Housing program
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