TOOELE, Utah — Groups in Tooele County are working to solve a problem of homelessness in their community through a one-stop-shop center. And after delays due to the pandemic, they are closer to construction.
The nearly 10-acre plot is where the Harris Elementary School was until the end of 2018 and has been empty since then. But that is on track to change soon when the Harris Community Village is built, which would connect people in need to the resources and services that can help.
“24/7 child-care, a community kitchen, emergency shelter and 66 units of permanent supportive housing, all on one campus,” said Christy Johnson, the regional director of Switchpoint — the organization that will operate the resource center and programs at the Harris Community Village, in partnership with the Tooele Housing Authority.
Johnson adds that there is a need for a one-stop shop like this that doesn’t exist in the county yet.
“Tooele is rural, but we have a homeless population,” she said. “Our pantry and resource center now currently serve over 66 unsheltered homeless, but we have seen a huge increase in the needs of people accessing the food pantry and resource center.”
The food pantry is currently at a different location, but it is one of the services that will move to the community village once it is built.
Nancy Stallings, who works directly with people who come looking for help, calls the food pantry “critical” to the community.
“Some days, literally, mothers will come in with their little ones and they’ll just say, ‘Mommy, I’m so hungry,' and she’s trying to get the food that they need," Stallings said.
Johnson adds that the goal of having multiple services together is to try to help people get back on their feet in the long term.
“Our model is, let them stay on campus, have access to case management, mental health services, they may need help with substance abuse disorders, and identify those needs and help the client improve their life,” Johnson said. “If we don’t provide those resources, they’re not going to improve, and the outcome will be that they will be back on the streets and we don’t want that.”
Johnson said the project was delayed months because of the pandemic, but they expect to start demolition in the coming weeks and to open the first phase of the project in the next 12 to 18 months.
“It can change the community because not only does it help the people who are coming in, it helps the people who are giving because they feel like, ‘I’m part of this and I want everybody to be having the basic things that they need,'” said Stallings.