SALT LAKE CITY — Homeless and low-income families gathered for a free lunch Wednesday at Pioneer Park.
For the past four years, the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake and local Subway restaurants have teamed to feed those in need and bring awareness of homelessness to the community.
Chris Croswhite, the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake executive director, said the goal is to have a picnic in the park with homeless and low-income people, just like other Utahns would during the summertime.
For some, the picnic was a time to share their stories on the road to recovery. For others, it was simply another day surviving their predicaments.
Mitch Fisher has been homeless for seven years. He's not content with his situation, but he also doesn't have much hope for the future.
"I don't have dreams anymore. I gave up on that," he said. "It'd be nice to be off the street, but it is what it is."
Fisher said he lost his job building homes when the economy got bad. He worked temporary jobs but started living on the streets when he could no long keep up on his child support payments. After that, he said he wasn't able to get back on his feet.
“I could work, but I don't make what I used to," Fisher said. "I'm not left with enough to get off the streets.”
He spent five years in between street life and jail in Indiana before moving to Utah about two years ago. Fisher said he spends his days now getting coffee and dinner from one of the homeless shelters, going to the library and "sitting around."
Tiffany Bills will graduate in three months from the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake's New Life Program. The center helps the homeless, poor and those who struggle with addiction receive the physical, emotional and spiritual help they need.
The yearlong program helps people overcome addictions and enables them become independent.
"At my lowest point, I was living in a shop with my dad, and I didn't see any hope for living anymore," she said. "I felt hopeless and empty."
Now, on the brink of having her own apartment, Bills said she's come a long way since leaving her husband and three children for her heroin addiction.
"I've totally turned my life over to God," she said. "I wake up in the morning and I"m happy to be alive. I know there's something to be living for."
Bills said the program has taught her how to take care of herself, set boundaries and be honest with herself and others. She said she is also working to rebuild her relationships with her children.
Lost, lonely and scared, Shelly Duncan ran away from a physically and verbally abuse relationship.
“I hoped the world would just self-destruct,” she said.
Duncan works full-time and has lived in the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake for about 18 months.
"It's chaotic and crazy living in the dorms with hundreds of different women," she said. "Sometimes it’s better to be out here (on the streets).”
Duncan said "you learn to make it" without a home, and life has brought "some pretty terrific experiences," like exploring Salt Lake City museums, churches and other places she never knew existed.
James King said he has lived at The Road Home for a year because of stupid decisions and not paying attention to his wife.
King is currently living on disability. Having five to six seizures a day because of epilepsy is a hinderance, he said.
Support from his friends and staff at The Road Home have helped him to overcome his marijuana and alcohol addiction, King said.
“I wouldn’t be clean and sober (without them),” he said. “I found good people who watch out for you."
King said everyone puts themselves in their own situations and seeing smiling faces of volunteers makes all the difference for him.
Vanessa Tafoya, a mother of three children under 3, said she spends a lot of time at Pioneer Park between morning and night, packing up all of her family's belongings and leaving The Road Home at 7 a.m. and then returning to the shelter to sleep.
“It’s very frustrating, but I manage,” she said. “I just have to hang in there for the kids. You learn how to handle situations like this.”
Tafoya, her husband and children have lived at the shelter for four months. Before that, she said they were living in and out of hotels for more than a year.
Through the shelter, the family recently got the help they needed to get into a home. They lived there three months rent-free, but it wasn't enough for them to get back on their feet.
"We thought we could do it on our own, but we couldn't," she said.