Jimmy Woods was homeless for 12 years before finally landing a place of his own in May.
More than a decade ago, when he couldn’t get the help he needed in Birmingham, Alabama, Jimmy boarded a bus bound for Ogden. After that, he made his way to the Road Home Shelter in Salt Lake City.
“I stayed the amount of days I needed to so they could help me into housing, and then they started having a bed bug problem over there, and all the violence, so I started camping outside,” he said.
Jimmy sought assistance through the Community Connections Center, a triage unit across from the shelter that serves as a stepping stone to mental health, substance abuse, housing and financial resources. The CCC opened July 2016 through the Salt Lake City Police Department and consists of a team of seven social workers, who see a constant flow of clients and prioritize their cases by need.
Social Work Manager Lana Dalton estimates the CCC works with hundreds of clients weekly during their limited hours of operation.
“We have been seeing, for just our case management and therapeutic services, approximately 30-40 people a day,” Dalton said. “On top of that, we also disperse clients’ mail here as well, and so we see approximately around 400-500 people come through our office a week. And that’s just in the five hours that we’re open on a daily basis.”
Dalton says the caseworkers are embedded in law enforcement, meaning local cops can refer people to the CCC or officers can ask for direct assistance with the people they encounter.
“Sometimes they will literally walk people in here because we have bike officers down here, and it’s really easy for them to literally take somebody and say, ‘hey, let’s walk over to the Community Connections Center and see what they can do for you,’” she said.
Not everyone is receptive to that suggestion. Many folks have been on housing wait lists for years and have lost faith in the system. And while most people appreciate the safety that comes with a police presence in the area, Sgt. Samuel Wolf says, others don’t trust the bike officers.
“There’s also I’d say a minority of people that just really don’t like police,” he said. “They don’t like what we do, they don’t like what we stand for and even just showing up causes agitation among that crowd.”
Like other men living on the street, Jimmy had some issues with law enforcement and was hesitant to seek help through the center.
“I was afraid to come up here because at that time I had a warrant out, and they told me, ‘we’re not here to arrest you on warrants, we’re here to help you,'” he said. “So I decided to come on in and try to get some help because I was tired of being on the street. I wanted to get back in my own place and have my dog in a safer environment.”
But going from being homeless to being housed can be a frustrating process — one that can drag on for many months, or even years. Many applicants need to first deal with substance abuse and legal issues before they qualify for a spot. And even then, there’s likely to be a wait.
Jimmy’s warrant was a hurdle for him, but Tim Keffer, Jimmy’s case worker, said his initiative helped solidify his housing plans.
“Some people have warrants, and whenever you run for certain housing, as soon as a warrant pops up it kicks you out,” he said. “Well, Jimmy was able to say, ‘if this is something I’ve gotta do, let’s go deal with it.’ It actually turned out really well, and the courts were supportive of everything he was doing, but it was all him following through with everything that was being asked of him.”
Since being placed in housing, Jimmy doesn’t have to come back to The CCC. He has a case manager at his new apartment. He says he might come by the center from time to time to say hello, but with his safety improved and housing secured, Jimmy has different plans in mind.
“Well, I plan on keeping the apartment, and while I’m there they told me I could work a few hours every week, so I’m going to do that,” he said. “Once I get my dog back, I’m going to keep taking her to the park and everything.”
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