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Utahns celebrate reopening of Weigand Homeless Resource Center

SALT LAKE CITY — James Nakamura's life started to unravel after Vicki, his wife of 15 years, died in his arms from a rare form of cancer.

Without the love of his life at his side, Nakamura said he was a broken man who in a relatively short period of time lost his home, his possessions and his way.

Still, Nakamura said he had a stubborn pride that made it difficult for him to reach out for help.

But after being critically injured in a brawl — he intervened in a dispute between a man and woman on Rio Grande Street — and losing the van he had lived in, a literally broken Nakamura reluctantly walked through the doors of Catholic Community Services of Utah's Weigand Homeless Resource Center.

"I was a wreck. I was about ready to give up," Nakamura said. "Now, I feel I got my life back."

Nakamura shared his story Monday during a ceremony to celebrate the reopening of the city's only homeless day shelter, 437 W. 200 South.

The center underwent a facelift for roughly a month, during which it was scrubbed, painted, new flooring was installed on its second floor, and the space was reconfigured to better meet the needs of some 450 people who visit each day for a wide array of services such as case management, storage, laundry, showers, a computer lab and haircuts.

"We have not really had a time to take care of the place the way we should. So we were lucky to get a (Community Development Block Grant) to redo the second floor," Dennis Kelsch, Catholic Community Services' basic needs service director, said prior to the ribbon-cutting.

Kelsch thanked the facility staff "who scrubbed, who painted, who spackled, who did all kinds of things over the past six weeks. They worked really hard."

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said Monday's ceremony was an opportunity to celebrate the wide array of public, private and faith-based organizations that work cooperatively to meet the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness and help them move to stability.

"One of the things I love about Utah is how we come together across party lines, across all levels of government to get the job done," McAdams said.

While some space on the second floor of the facility has been repurposed, it will continue to serve as Salt Lake Justice Court Judge John Baxter's homeless court, a smaller office where Utah Transit Authority tickets are adjudicated, and space for Department of Workforce Services employees who help people search for work and apply for public assistance programs. Fourth Street Clinic also operates there.

Case workers also help people make the transition into housing, obtain their IDs and other documents, as well as direct them to physical and behavioral health service providers.

After residing in The Road Home community shelter for eight months, Nakamura now lives in an apartment and works at the Weigand Center through an Easter Seals employment program.

He credits the Weigand Center's Gina Lopez for helping him get back on track.

"I call her my guardian angel. When I walked into the place, she took notice of me," Nakamura said.

Homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson said upgrading the center might not seem important to some people, "but for our homeless friends, it's a huge deal. What Catholic Community Services has succeeded in doing is making many of our homeless friends feel very important."

Nakamura jokes that the Weigand Center is his "Cheers," the television sitcom about a Boston bar popular in the 1980s and '90s.

"Here, everybody knows you," he said.

Thanks to help of the Weigand Center, Nakamura said, he is in a good place.

"I'm strong now for the fact of the Weigand Center and all the help I've received from them and still receive from them, even if it's just talking to me," he said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com