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HOMELESS ADVOCATE TAKING EXPERTISE TO COAST OF AFRICA

A man credited with changing Salt Lake City's approach to helping homeless people become independent will use his expertise to help refugee women in the Ivory Coast region.

Patrick Poulin has spent his adult life working with people who have no homes, first as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, then working with homeless people for Valley Mental Health. Almost five years ago he became director of Travelers Aid Society, which operates Salt Lake City's largest homeless shelters.He supervised the move of the men's shelter from a decrepit, smelly warehouse to a new facility, the Salt Lake Community Shelter and Resource Center, 210 S. Rio Grande St. He also oversaw the transition of homeless families from old trailers to the center. This summer the construction phases were completed when single homeless women were moved from a run-down duplex into the center.

Now he's moving to Danane, Liberia, where he and his wife, Amy, will co-direct a program to help women whose lives have been ravaged by the civil war in their country. They have promised at least a year to the project. In many ways, the move in October will complete a circle for the Poulins, who met in the Peace Corps and were married a decade ago in Mali.

Under the auspices of a U.N. group that serves women in Third World countries, they will set up a mental health center, provide health education and look for income-generating possibilities. The project closely matches their expertises: Amy Poulin works for Community Counseling Center, he works for the shelter, and in Liberia they will help both people who are displaced and those who are mentally ill.

"It sounds a little like what we've been doing here, doesn't it?" Poulin asked, pointing out that Salt Lake homeless services have been expanded from a simple roof overhead to include on-site or nearby case management services, mental health, a medical clinic and employment program.

Without strong community support - donations literally built the shelters - none of it could have happened, Poulin said.

"It's a privilege to be a part of this movement that has seen such individual and community support. It really restores faith that we can all help each other. But it's also ironic. The populace has been so supportive, and yet some of our leadership makes decisions that don't take people into account at all."

The key issue, he said, is affordable housing for low-income people. And Utah has been steadily losing ground there.

For all the progress, Poulin worries that "officials don't see the big picture" and that will lead to a "huge step backwards."

He was disturbed by a recent proposal to set up homeless camps. Those do nothing to prevent or cure homelessness, he said.