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Downtown's Weigand homeless center seeking $60,000 to stay open on weekends

SALT LAKE CITY — Facing a $60,000 funding gap and no new money from the city, Catholic Community Services's Weigand Homeless Resource Center on Thursday was on the verge of closing its doors on weekends, starting Saturday.

That would mean an additional 360 people experiencing homelessness would be left on the streets of the Rio Grande neighborhood each weekend during the day.

Matt Melville, director of homeless services for Catholic Community Services, said he walked away from a meeting just two days ago with Salt Lake City officials knowing he'd have to deliver some bad news to the day center's users — that between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, they'd have to find another place to go.

"We'd love to keep our doors open; this affects a lot of people," he said, but without an additional $60,000 to keep weekend hours through the rest of the year, that wouldn't be possible. "The clients, when we told them, they were distraught. This was worst-case scenario for us."

Kevin Aldridge, a 57-year-old who has been homeless for more than three years, said he goes to the Weigand center every day for a reprieve from the "riff-raff" on the streets, particularly drug users in or near the Road Home shelter.

"It keeps us safe" during the day, he said. "We would have nothing to do and nowhere to go except back to the Road Home."

But after the Deseret News on Thursday began asking questions and called City Hall for more information, the situation changed.

David Litvack, Mayor Jackie Biskupski's deputy chief of staff, called Melville later Thursday afternoon and told him to keep the Weigand center's doors open for at least another 45 days, buying time to find a way to fill the $60,000 shortfall.

"We had every intention of working with them to figure out how to keep their valuable services going," according to Biskupski's spoksesman, Matthew Rojas, who added that until they were told by a reporter, "we weren't aware they were going to be closing this weekend."

Melville, however, said that was the message of Tuesday's meeting: They needed more funding or they would be forced to shut down on weekends starting Saturday. He shrugged his shoulders after he got off the phone with Litvack.

"I guess it goes to show how much a little attention and a phone call can save the day," he said.

The Weigand center is the only day center of it's kind in Salt Lake City. It provides laundry, showers, restrooms, storage, hygiene services, computer access and staff to help connect clients to jobs or housing.

Melville said this year Catholic Community Services requested more funding from Salt Lake City to help keep up with its growing budget, which he said has swelled over the last couple of years because of a need to hire more security.

"The neighborhood has changed. There has been a lot more violence out on the streets and it's been spilling over onto our property," Melville said. "We've had to adapt, and it's come at great expense."

Previously, Melville said, Catholic Community Services has been able to cover the increased security costs through fundraising, but this year has proved to be more difficult. He said that may have to do with the "uncertainty" of the neighborhood's future — with the Road Home slated to close in 2019. But Catholic Community Services, Melville said, isn't planning on going anywhere.

Despite their requests, Salt Lake City granted the Weigand center the same amount of funding as last year: $157,000.

Rojas said later Thursday that city officials are committed to helping the center find new funds to keep its doors open during weekends.

He added that Litvack was "legitimately concerned" when he heard of the $60,000 shortfall on Tuesday. He said it was the first time he heard of such a funding gap and he didn't know that the Weigand would need to start closing its doors so soon.

It's not yet clear what steps the city will take, but Rojas said officials could request a budget adjustment or work with private donors to raise additional funds.

"We would love it if the private community would step in and help," Rojas said, noting that Salt Lake City already contributes millions toward homeless services and social work in the Rio Grande area.

"We understand nobody wants to feel like their backs are against the wall," Rojas added. "Of course we're going to try to help. They're doing God's work down there, so we want to make sure they keep doing their work."

Melville, however, didn't exactly breathe a breath of relief, knowing the center only has four weeks to find $60,000.

"We're still a little concerned," he said. "There's no guarantee that at the end of these 45 days that there will be funding."

Yet Melville remains "cautiously optimistic," expressing gratitude to city officials for stepping forward.

"It's great the city's come back and said, 'Give us a little more time and we will find a solution,'" he said. "They understand the urgency."