Travelers Aid Society fills major gaps in services to homeless people, but it cannot be expected to do everything to make people self-sufficient. Individuals and private organizations have a "moral obligation, a spiritual obligation, almost a financial obligation to make the world a better place for everyone," according to a former director of state Community and Economic Development.
Olene Walker, speaking at the Travelers Aid Society annual meeting Wednesday, said that no one else stepped in to take over the job of finding transitional housing for people who could leave the shelter, low-income housing, peer counseling or jobs for homeless people. Instead, the agency has assumed the burden. And Walker doesn't think that's fair."Government can help. But it has got to be a facilitator and not a regulator," she said. "The federal government has provided some money. We need the private sector to put together" programs and assistance.
Ninety of the men who are staying at the homeless shelter have low-paying jobs that won't let them get affordable housing, she said.
Mental-health services were turned over by the state to the communities, and many of the services were privatized. In some parts of the state, services are inadequate.
"The problems (homeless people face) are not a one-time visit, an in-and-out operation. We cannot sit back and expect Travelers Aid to do everything. If we're stretching them too far, expecting too much, we have got to find other community resources," Walker said.
Travelers Aid operates the Salt Lake Community Shelter and Resource Center, an umbrella of shelters for single men, families and single women. Because of funding shortfalls, the shelter will herald the coming of warm weather by reducing the number of homeless people who can stay, according to Patrick Poulin, director. By midsummer, the shelter usually has waiting lists, but it cannot afford to operate at full capacity.
"People want jobs. They want paying jobs that are sufficient that they can have their own homes," Walker said. "If ever there were a fertile ground for a helping hand, it's on the second floor (men's shelter) and in the family shelter. We can't think that government's going to do it - city, state or county."
Walker said she'd like to see the $350,000 allocated by the Legislature for homeless programs moved from the supplemental budget to the base budget, so advocates wouldn't have to fight for it anew each year.
"I'm pointing fingers at all levels of government," she said. "I'm pointing fingers at everyone and saying, `Where is the obligation?' "