Park City and Summit County have each kicked in $6,000 toward getting emergency shelter for people stranded in the community without money or a place to stay.
A homeless shelter in bucolic Summit County? It would fill a definite though little-known need, local pastors and public officials say.Homelessness most often is associated with big cities. But even rural areas and small cities have their share of those Mark Heiss calls "people on the edge."
Heiss, a pastor at the Park City Community Church, is one of many Summit County pastors who have quietly handled this semi-rural region's emergency shelter needs for the past few years.
The emergencies arise because I-80 is like a river - and the people who need help are shipwrecked and stranded.
"There's a transient problem when you're located on the interstate," Heiss said.
Entire families pull off the freeway in broken-down cars, miles from their destinations. A woman flees Salt Lake City and an abusive mate and comes to Park City after spending the night at a rest stop. A man freshly released from jail after serving time on a drunken driving charge needs to find a place to stay in Coalville. Or someone on the way to somewhere else just runs out of money in the night and spends his last quarter in a gas station phone booth calling for help.
Usually, they call on the county's pastors. Heiss says all the area's churches have offered their basements or lobbies as shelters at some time or another. Ministers have bought food, tanks of gas. When they can, the pastors put up people in trouble in one of two Park City hotels that offer lower rates to the local ecumenical council.
Shelter needs are most apparent during the coldest months. Tim Kenny, program development director for the Utah Housing Finance Agency, estimates the number of people in Summit County in "distressed circumstances" swells by 200 percent in the winter, when temporary housing is least available. "Then, there is literally no room at the inn," he said.
Kenny, a Summit County resident, says the state has $8 million available for emergency housing in non-urban areas. The $12,000 in pledges from Park City and Summit County makes them eligible for $146,000 in state and federal housing grants.
The non-profit corporation that would run the shelter, the Inter-Community Temporary Housing Organizing Society, would rehabilitate an existing duplex for the shelter, Kenny said.