The Weigand Center, a downtown day-time homeless shelter operated by Catholic Community Services, was on the edge of shutting down completely earlier this year. Center administrators approached the downtown Salt Lake City business community for donations, but came away empty handed, they say. You'd think businesses would want homeless people to have a place to get out of the cold, if for no other reason than to have a place to refer them if they are loitering somewhere to stay warm, or panhandling in front of their business.
Salt Lake City and County each donated $100,000 to keep the place open for a year, but it wasn't enough to operate 7 days per week. They planned to be closed on weekends. Which is too bad, because deadly cold days are not reserved for Monday through Friday. The nighttime homeless shelters won't let you in during the day, you see.
Put yourself in a homeless person's shoes. What are you to do if it's too cold to survive the day outside and there's nowhere designated for you to be. Some ride the train all day long. Others may break into abandoned buildings and start camp fires. Many go to the library -- which welcomes homeless individuals -- but you can't take a shower or do laundry at the library (at least its discouraged).
I called the Weigand Center about this at the end of October after hearing about it from some homeless friends (yeah, I have a few. I work on Main Street, what do you expect?) It was true, spokeswoman Kathryn Brussard said, and they weren't happy about it.
"We know it's a huge need," she said. "We would love to be open on weekends."
Long story short, Brussard said the center administrators had a meeting and were going to discuss the predicament. They reassessed the center's finances and decided they could open up on weekends again, thanks largely to private donations from individuals, not the business community.
Brussard said various business groups in town were not supportive. "Well, actually, we don't want you there at all," Brussard said, paraphrasing the response they got. "We would prefer all the homeless services be moved somewhere else." The Weigand Center is located at 235 S. Rio Grande St., south of the Gateway Mall.
So CCS started a mail campaign, soliciting donations from individuals, and it worked. The money rolled in, at least enough to stay open on weekends, at least for one year.
So, I'm hoping that on this Black Friday, when so many of us spend so much money, you might be able to set aside some for your favorite charity. Maybe that's Catholic Community Services, or another group, whatever. But this story reminds you that every dollar counts and small charities really do need your help. Many maintain their services on a shoestring, begging for help year after year because they're always on the edge of annihilation.
"People hear Catholic Community Services and they think, 'Oh, the diocese pays for that,' but no," Brussard said.
Also, Weigand has no religious requirement for clients; it's just a place to get a sandwich, use the bathroom and hang out a bit.
To contact Catholic Community Services, go here: http://www.ccsutah.org/