Shelter the Homeless: the Change in the Homeless Community


Amy Russell, Associate Director of the Gail Miller Resource Center

The word “homeless” has a bad reputation because of stereotypes. Assumptions about homeless people include that they look dirty, they are drug users, and they don’t have jobs. But in reality, those characteristics only make up a portion of our homeless community. 


“Homelessness is an address not an indication of who you are. Homelessness is like any kind of population, there’s all types of people who become homeless. This is a population that we try not to see and one of the things that we want to educate people on is to look at people, see them, be willing to touch them, and take their hand,” said Amy Russell, Associate Director of the Gail Miller Resource Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.


 Russell started her journey in homelessness 25 years ago when she got her masters degree in social work. When her kids were young she worked part time at the YWCA, a domestic violence shelter, raising money and building new domestic violence shelters. Russell was looking for a change and around that time a board member contacted her about a job. Russell had experience building shelters and she had experience with the program which helped her stand out. Russell left her job at the YWCA and came to work with Shelter the Homeless.


Shelter the Homeless started in 1988. They owned the property and building of the Rio Grande shelter which the Road Home operated. Eventually, they saw how bad the homeless system was and they decided to make a change. They wanted to open up new shelters with a better system. The state of Utah put in a lot of money towards new shelters as did a lot of donors, in return they got a tax deduction. But when you donate money you can’t donate it to the state so they needed an organization to have the money donated to. Instead of building a new organization and having to go through the whole process with a 501c3, they decided to use a pre-existing organization, Shelter the Homeless. 


The new system that they created would build resource centers instead of just shelters for the homeless to sleep in. The resource centers offer what they call “wrap-around services.” Some of the “wrap around” services they provide are case management, eligibility workers, access to health care providers, free washer and dryer, library, computer lab, and technology classes. They also offer transportation, to ensure that it isn’t a barrier for people who need help.


“When we built these buildings the idea was, let’s break down barriers to get people to come into shelter that weren’t coming in before,” said Russell. One of those barriers that they broke down was with animals. Previous shelters wouldn’t allow pets inside and so that kept people out because their pets were their safety nets and they didn’t want to leave them. This resource center allows animals inside, they also allow the animals to sleep in the same room as their owner, and they offer cleaning services and testings for the pets. Another barrier they broke down was letting couples inside. Couples cannot sleep in the same dorm but they can walk around the center together and they can eat together. After breaking down these barriers they noticed a lot more people coming in and seeking help. 


There is a real misunderstanding of how many individuals stay at the shelter but work during the day. They do have a wage, it is just not a wage that they can live off of. With the money they earn at their job, it might not be enough to pay their rent that month so they stay at the resource center. The center gives them three meals a day and provides a place to sleep but once they have enough to pay their rent, they are back on their feet again. Fifteen percent of people who come into the building are out in 5-10 days because they self resolve.


Shelter the Homeless sponsors 3 locations with the help of other organizations. In addition to these three resource centers, there is one for families and one for youth. The Gail Miller Resource Center is a co-ed facility located at 242 Paramount Ave, Salt Lake City, Utah. Geraldine E. King Women’s Resource Center is a women’s shelter located at 131 East 700 South, Salt Lake City. The last resource center is a men’s resource center located at 3380 South 1000 West, South Salt Lake.

If you or someone you know is struggling and needs shelter please contact one of these shelters and for more information, you can visit Remember help is out there, all you need to do is ask.