Being a catalyst for change in people’s lives and allowing them a second chance is what being a humanitarian is all about. We refer to these people in our own lives as mentors or heroes.
For vulnerable populations in Utah who suffer from homelessness, addiction, mental illness and other hardships, Volunteers of America (VOA) is just that, a group of local heroes who tackle these issues in our community, giving people a second chance.
For 120 years, VOA has operated nationwide and in the last 30 years has increased their capacity to help vulnerable people here in Salt Lake City.
Every Monday morning, VOA staff begin the week with a meeting to maximize their impact on getting more people back to self-sufficiency. Outreach teams are comprised of individuals who work directly with populations of homeless youth, the highest users of Medicaid, chronically homeless individuals, and adult detox patients. These VOA outreach teams are the face of hope to the individuals they work with.
Despite huge efforts Utah has made to end homelessness, according to the 2015 Utah Homeless Management Information System, there are approximately 3,000 homeless people in Salt Lake County and nearly half are families with children.
This winter, the Road Home shelter has been at max capacity while the Road Home community winter shelter in Midvale houses 76 families. There are also 66 beds at the St. Vincent de Paul winter overflow shelter and there are even more individuals who stay on the street.
In order to address problems associated with homelessness, Volunteers of America combines the strategies of outreach (for mobile populations) with six other major programs that target individual needs.
Soon, one of those programs, a youth resource center, will be up and running at 888 south and 400 west. Construction is expected to be complete this spring. This new center is a product of a four-year effort to raise approximately $6 million to provide youth with a space that will combine education and a safe environment.
Youth 22 years of age and younger will be able to access the facility 24/7. There will also be a strong initiative to create opportunities for community members to get involved. VOA believes that in order for these youth to thrive, they need to be supported, accepted and integrated into society in a safe way. This center will attempt to provide that type of environment.
VOA President/CEO Kathy Bray shared some of their 2016 initiatives.
One is the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. This is a result of laws passed and resources made available for treatment versus incarceration. Bray said that VOA is working towards being one of the mental health service providers for people who become involved in the criminal justice system to prevent these individuals from further criminal involvement by helping them get the treatment they need.
Another major initiative is called Pay for Success. They will be partnering with the Road Home, who in this case is the primary grant provider. This Salt Lake County initiative is paid for by private investors with the goal of helping homeless individuals who are not chronically homeless, but have had three to 11 months of homelessness. “The effort is rapid re-housing and VOA will be able to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment to try to stabilize more people out of homelessness,” said Bray.
VOA has a deep sense of responsibility towards our vulnerable community members. Their approach to helping them become self-sufficient is innovative and catered to the individual.
To learn more about their services and volunteer opportunities, visit www.voaut.org.