SALT LAKE CITY — Pamela Atkinson, a tireless advocate for those experiencing homelessness in Utah, has long called the people she serves her friends. Now, a new permanent supportive housing development to assist them in Salt Lake City will bear her name.
"Everyone is her friend, and that’s how she treats everybody. That kind of respect and that kind of love is a lesson for all of us,” said Gov. Gary Herbert about Atkinson, calling her the Mother Theresa of Utah.
Pamela's Place, located at 525 S. 500 West, will include 100 micro-units and a ground floor with medical services, kitchens and a pet area. It will provide housing to people with low incomes or who are coming out of homelessness. Herbert and others celebrated Atkinson on Wednesday as they broke ground for the facility.
"It’s not just a shelter … but a comprehensive affordable housing that gives treatment and counseling. (It) helps people help themselves and have a better future," Herbert said.
Atkinson said that when she asks her homeless friends what they need, they often say a roof over their head. They are happy to share a bathroom or kitchen and simply want somewhere to live.
"For many of our homeless friends those needs are small, and that’s why this project is going to be great because housing does come first and through the housing development we have been able to turn people’s lives around," Atkinson said.
Upon learning he was being assigned to the State Homelessness Coordinating Committee, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox recalled he told his staff he didn't know much about homelessness. They introduced him to Atkinson, who showed him homeless services in the state and introduced him to her friends.
“That day changed my life," Cox said.
The $14 million project for Pamela's Place is funded with federal, state, local and private programs.
Evelyn Lim, regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the project is an example of how crucial collaboration is to create affordable housing. She said local communities know best how to use funding.
"I’m heartened that Utah and Salt Lake City are leading the charge for … permanent supportive housing and also creating incentives for the community. The rest of the country is watching and also learning. You should be proud," Lim said.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski noted Pamela's Place is one of three permanent housing developments that will provide 242 units. Biskupski said she has listened to the people living in similar units tell their stories and has seen that change is possible.
"Pamela’s Place will be a space of hope and opportunity in Salt Lake City. It will be a place where those in need find the support they need to move forward," Biskupski said.