It was brisk in the courtyard of Harris Community Village in Tooele Wednesday, but the mood was light as Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed nine pieces of legislation related to homelessness, mental health and Utah’s system of homeless services.

While lawmakers and elected officials gathered near the desk where Cox conducted a ceremonial bill signing, Kenna Morrison hung in the back taking it in.

“Those people are doing great things. It means a lot. It really does,” said Morrison, who has been staying in the village’s emergency homeless shelter for about 1½ months after living in her car and homeless camps.

Morrison, who grew up in Tooele, shares a dormitory with other women in the shelter, which is a repurposed elementary school built in the 1950s. Some of Morrison’s childhood friends attended the school, she said.

The 44-bed shelter has men’s and women’s dormitories and seven separate rooms for families.

“It’s wonderful here. This is like the Ritz of the Ritz of homeless shelters. We have three meals a day. We’ve got warm showers, warm beds. Everything is just nice,” she said.

Sixty-six units of permanent supportive housing have been constructed behind the school.

The campus is owned by the Tooele County Housing Authority with Switchpoint contracted to provide services to men, women and families living in the shelter and apartments.

Jenny Cerroni moved into one of the apartments this winter. She said she became homeless when she relapsed after 13 years of sobriety. Her life quickly unraveled and she ended up living in her car, or at times, couch surfing.

Jenny Cerroni, who was previously homeless for around two years, grabs a drink for her friend in her new apartment at the Harris Community Village in Tooele on Wednesday, March 27, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“I lost everything, everything. When I walked in here I had two pairs of pants and probably three shirts and no underwear and about three pairs of socks,” she said.

Her apartment has a full kitchen, bedroom, dining room table and an in-unit washer and dryer.

“Look, my fridge is full of food,” she said, pulling open the door, clearly delighted at the sight.

The first time she walked into the apartment, she wept. “I came in here and there was actually a bed and I cried,” she said.

After a long period of being unsheltered, Cerroni said she is grateful for the sense of security she now experiences. She’s working in Salt Lake City, and now that she has an apartment, her two grandchildren can come to visit.

“It’s just nice,” she said.

The ceremonial bill signing lifted up a host of measures passed by state lawmakers during the Utah Legislature’s 2024 General Session that addressed issues such as prohibiting camping and retooling the Utah Homelessness Council, which oversees the system of services. The previous board had 29 members.

Cox said the state “made real progress in filling gaps in the system with some historic funding investments for emergency shelters.”

Funding appropriated by the Utah Legislature leveraged some $15 million in private giving from the Utah Impact Partnership for a low-barrier shelter, which will extend the reach of Utah’s services, he said.

“This is an incredible achievement, historic achievement, and will make a real difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable Utahns, as well as keeping our communities safe,” he said.

While there was cause for celebration on Wednesday, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said there remains work to do to better serve people experiencing homelessness and struggling with mental illness.

Eliason said he had just attended a meeting of The Road Home’s board of directors, where he learned that 80 families are in shelter while 100 other families are on a waiting list.

“This has never happened before,” he said.

He thanked Cox for his leadership in requesting funds for the HOME Court Pilot Program, which will provide for comprehensive, court-supervised treatment and services for people in Salt Lake County with mental illness.

“When we have people who have been arrested over 300 times, something’s not working and this is an attempt to break that cycle,” he said.