SALT LAKE CITY — It's crunch time for homelessness providers as the first of the new homeless resource centers gears up to open its doors within the next two weeks — and they say they need help.
Advocates are looking for Utahns able and willing to volunteer in the new homeless resource centers, seeking people to sort donations and help serve meals.
"We're issuing a major call for volunteers and donations," Kathy Bray, president and CEO of Volunteers of America-Utah, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday at Volunteers of America-Utah's Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake City.
Bray urged Utahns to sign up to volunteer at Volunteers of America's website, voaut.org, and "the sooner the better," she said.
The new centers are also in need of donations such as new underwear, hygiene products and shoes.
"We need the community to step up," said homelessness advocate Pamela Atkinson.
The 200-bed Geraldine E. King Women's Resource Center, 131 E. 700 South, is slated to be the first to open of the three homeless resource centers meant to replace the Road Home's downtown shelter. It's scheduled to begin serving women by the end of July or the beginning of August.
Volunteers of America, which will operate the women's resource center, has hired about 45 staff members and is in the midst of training them, Bray said.
As staff is also finishing up its checklist to get the building ready, Bray said her team could use as many volunteers as possible to begin preparing linens for the new beds and sign up to help serve lunch and dinners on an ongoing basis at the center.
But it's all three resource centers that are in need of volunteers to make the transition successful.
Leaders of the organizations that will be operating the other homeless resource centers — the Road Home and Catholic Community Services — also joined the call for volunteers.
"I want to thank everyone who has ever picked up a phone or shovel or a broom, answered a question, put together a hygiene kit and helped serve a meal," said Matthew Minkevitch, executive director of the Road Home, which will be operating the 300-bed men's resource center in South Salt Lake, slated to open in September.
"You're critical. You're essential to our efforts, and you define us as a community," Minkevitch said.
The homeless resource centers were originally slated to open before June 30, but delays in construction and timing of contracts and lease agreements have frustrated some groups, including the Pioneer Park Coalition, which earlier this month sounded off on the facilities' delayed openings.
Bray said despite the delays, the women's resource center "will be ready" for women to begin moving in in the coming weeks, though she said no hard opening date has been set.
"We're not selecting one specific date," she said. "We're going to do it at a pace that works for the staff and the client, and it has to be done, I think, with some understanding and gentleness for the pace that is going to work best for the women. It's a major change ... We have to transition them with some ease."
Though Bray said "some things were delayed," overall, it wasn't "unreasonable."
"It's all really coming together and now is the time when it has to — so that's good," she said.
Catholic Community Services, which will be operating the 200-bed mixed gender Gail Miller Resource Center, has signed its contracts and is beginning to hire staff now, said Kallie McKown, homeless services director for Catholic Community Services. That center is slated to open late August.
Catholic Community Services will be preparing lunch and dinners off-site and delivering the meals daily to the three homeless resource centers, Bray said.
"It's a brand-new system. We're trying to create efficiencies with a single kitchen that delivers meals to all centers," she said.
While organizations continue to hire and train staff, Bray said volunteers will help lift the burden and help staff focus on transitioning clients into the homeless shelters. She said they hope to find long-term volunteers who will want to keep coming back to sort donations or serve meals in the future.
"We definitely want to keep the same type of system we've developed in (our other facilities), where some groups come every week on the same day for lunch, and others come once a month for dinner," Bray said, noting that they'll be looking for groups of 20 to help serve each meal.
Some volunteers have already begun signing up, Bray said, indicating a good sign that Utahns will show up when they're needed.
"The faster we have sign-ups the better so the staff can focus on more urgent needs and difficult situations are facing," she said.