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Switchpoint: Meeting Needs With Compassion

Changing the face of poverty

When Switchpoint Community Resource Center opened its doors in 2014, founder Carol Hollowell knew the shelter’s success would depend on its ability to respond to client’s needs, adapt the business model appropriately, and invent sustainable income streams.

Nearly a decade later, Switchpoint stands as one of Utah’s—and indeed, the nation’s—greatest sources of hope for the unhoused. Additionally, it has become a beacon of innovation, launching numerous allied businesses and a host of short- and long-term housing projects throughout the state.

Spend roughly 20 seconds with Development Director, Linda Stay, and you’ll understand why Switchpoint’s mission is essential to the community—and why it deserves everyone’s support.

“For many of our clients, by the time they get to us, their confidence is shot; they just don’t have any hope,” Linda confides, tears welling in her eyes. “We create opportunities for them to be successful, to contribute to the betterment of the whole, and to serve their neighbors.”

Those opportunities begin when a new client steps through Switchpoint’s front doors, which are open 24/7. The intake team carefully assesses individual needs—even those the client cannot articulate.

“Quite often someone can’t talk about what they’re looking for, whether it’s addiction recovery, escape from an abusive relationship, or just a place to take a shower,” Linda explains. “Everyone’s needs are unique; we help bring them into focus.”

Once specific goals have been identified, each client is assigned a case manager. It’s here, Linda believes, that the “magic” happens: Switchpoint’s case managers work with all residents of the 84-bed shelter to develop a plan that will empower them to become independent. From the start, staff members place an emphasis on the need for everyone to pull their own weight.

Says Linda, “We require all able-bodied residents to have a job. Several local companies have been wonderful about hiring our residents. Also, they can earn ‘Switchbucks’ by working at our thrift store, our coffee roasting company, Switchpoint Garden, or Bed-N-Biscuits, our doggie daycare. Again, it’s all about creating opportunities for clients to regain control of their lives and feel successful.”

Linda adds that Switchpoint’s multiple businesses are the result of the ongoing drive to best serve their clients. For example, almost none of the nation’s homeless shelters will house residents’ pets; thus, Bed-N-Biscuits, offering canine care, was born. Switchpoint Aeroponic Garden grew—literally—out of the aim to feed residents the freshest-possible produce. Switchpoint's organic produce and roasted coffee may be purchased through Digby's Market on Snow Canyon Parkway. 

This fall, ground will be broken on the construction of a 3,000 square-foot commercial kitchen at the rear of the Switchpoint campus, with 16 family units to be located on the second floor. Along with the preparation of the 150 lunches and 80 dinners that Switchpoint serves residents daily, the new kitchen will see the production of baked goods that will be sold to local senior living facilities, yielding still another revenue stream.

Construction is also underway on several affordable housing projects in St. George, Tooele and Salt Lake City. But Linda stresses that finding funding is a perennial challenge.

“People have this misconception that we’re fully funded by state and federal dollars; we’re definitely not. That’s why we’ve been so innovative about creating income sources … and we absolutely depend on the support of generous community members.

“The other, biggest misconception,” Linda finishes, “is that our residents are all dealing with addictions, or they’re severely mentally ill, or they somehow ‘want’ to be here. Being homeless or food-insecure is not who they are; it’s just what they’re experiencing right now. They’re your sister, or your cousin, or your grandfather whose small Social Security check won’t cover what rents have become. Our job is to meet everyone where they are, see beyond their circumstance, and stand beside them.”

A Portrait of its Founding: A Small Interaction Sparks Huge Impact

Carol's “rearview mirror moment” was her first glimpse of Ray, disheveled and shivering in a wheelchair in the rain, as she drove past. Inexplicably, she felt compelled to make a U-turn. Bundling the homeless stranger and his chair into her truck, Carol aimed simply to find him a hot cup of coffee. But as his story poured out, the trajectory of both of their lives took a dramatic turn.

Carol’s determination to help Ray replace the ID card he had lost when his wallet was stolen was the launching-pad for what is now the Switchpoint Resource Center.

“For five years Ray had been camping in an alley, because without identification he couldn’t get a job or find housing,” Carol notes. “I thought ‘wow, I could fix this guy’s problem if I could just get him an ID.’ And that was how Switchpoint began.”

That clear-headed drive to solve problems has since transformed the futures of over 15,000 Utahns formerly living in poverty. For Carol, for her board, and for all Switchpoint’s change-makers, it’s their raison d’etre, Carol says.

“There’s innate satisfaction in the fact that you’re helping someone, every single day.”

According to Switchpoint's 2002 Annual Report, 4,339,300 pounds of food were distributed through food pantries and soup kitchens, more than 42,000 bed nights were provided in shelters, 175 individuals participated in education and employment programs. In addition, 332 families received housing assistance support and nealy 500 Utahns are no longer homeless. What is impressive, Switchpoint volunteers served a total of 37,530 hours. Switchpoint's vision: Every individual embodies their worth and value, with self-esteem, hope and abilities restored, thriving in affordable housing.  

To take a tour of Switchpoint or to make a donation or both, visit switchpointcrc.org.

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