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Volunteers survey hundreds of homeless people on their needs

SALT LAKE CITY — Trained volunteers assisting Salt Lake County surveyed hundreds of people experiencing homelessness Tuesday in an attempt to further hone in on service needs and concerns.

The surveys, conducted at Catholic Community Services of Utah's Weigand Homeless Resource Center and St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall, Fourth Street Clinic and the Road Home, took about 15 minutes to complete and participants were given $5 gift cards to Wendy's for their help.

Trained volunteers from the Association for Utah Community Health and Salt Lake County’s AmeriCorps program conducted the surveys.

About 650 surveys had been completed by midday and a steady stream of participants were lined up in the late afternoon at the dining hall, which was gearing up for the evening meal.

Part of the survey was a nationally used assessment tool that asks whether someone is housed, health issues, education, employment, whether they aged out of foster care, are a refugee among other questions to gauge their vulnerability.

The rest were questions designed to learn more about local needs, inquiring whether people felt safe seeking homeless services in Salt Lake and why not, whether they had been in the Salt Lake County Jail and if they had interest in an "amnesty program" for people with active warrants who are willing to enter treatment.

William O'Brien, who said he has been staying at the Road Home for 2 ½ weeks, said he hopes the survey will result in more employment opportunities.

"I've got to get a job and find a low-income apartment to stay here. I came here because of the mountains," he said.

Adelida Lambaren-Guillen said she was happy to receive the gift card, but said "it was kind of a lot of personal questions."

Tamra Davis agreed that the survey had a lot of questions. "But it was nice to work with people that were interested in giving us a hand up and work with us in getting us out and into a better place to live."

Davis said she hopes the survey will also help end stigma about people experiencing homelessness, particularly as Salt Lake City prepares to announce sites for four new homeless resource centers.

"All the people that are homeless are not just doing drugs. There's a lot of us looking for work and educated but we don't have the resources like bus tokens or vouchers. My ID was stolen three days after I moved back home and I don't have no resources to get my ID, my driver's license my Social Security card and all that replaced," she said.

Her companion Wendell Davis said he is disabled and recently released from the hospital. He has a medical bed at the Road Home.

"I just want to say I am thankful, though, for what is here. I've actually slept on the street before, literally. Even though not everything is as good as it could be, I'm thankful for what is here," he said.

The survey results will help inform the work of Salt Lake County's collective impact approach to addressing service needs and facility design of new resource centers for people experiencing homelessness, which includes creating a system of constant improvement.