Homeless in Salt Lake City

Dee Dee Wiley came from a good LDS family, graduated from high school, has a nursing degree and has never went to jail. Her and her children will spend the night in a homeless shelter.

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The Road Home, a Salt Lake City homeless shelter, helped 9,570 people overcome homelessness, according to their 2014 annual report. Wiley hopes to be a part of the organization’s success and overcome homelessness this year.  They attribute their success to innovation and a desire to make a difference in people’s lives.

The Road Home accommodates around 900 people each night all while helping them find homes and overcome homelessness.

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Melanie Zamora, Housing Director at the Road Home said, “My job is to make sure that 900 people have a way out.”

Most people stay in the shelter less than 30 days before leaving on their own without assistance.  This is the organization’s goal, for homelessness to be a very short period of time.

The process starts with a person’s first meeting when they fill out their information, receive shelter for the night and receive a housing assessment. Clients are encouraged from the start to seek out housing so they have an end goal in mind.

“This is often the times the biggest crisis in their entire lives. People want to know about sleeping tonight, but we encourage looking for housing now,” Melanie Zamora said.

In addition to innovating through calculated risks regularly, the Road Home claims to approach their job with a positive attitude.

“We work hard and feel like we make genuine differences in lives every day,” said Brittany Conley, a family crisis case manager.

The staff of over 200 believe in people. They know homeless people are capable of living on their own and believe in them, telling them they can control what is going on in their lives.

The Road Home shows this trust and belief through their best practice philosophy of housing first. Housing first suggests that housing is a right and that above all else a person without a house, needs to be placed in a house.

Clients may leave poor, addicted or suffering, but that they are no longer homeless and the Road Home can assist them from there. A high percentage of their income will go to housing, they might borrow money to pay it; but they did it before, and this gets them back on their feet.

The Road Home places people in a position to succeed, paying off utility and eviction debt previously acquired.

While the shelter helps in the housing process it is ultimately the individual’s decision as to where to live.

“They pick a land lord they like or a school district they like. They want a place they like so they can make it their home,” Melanie Zamora said.

This approach is different from the previous view that people needed to have an income, be sober and lack a record of domestic violence before being issued housing. 12 years ago The Road Home changed their philosophy from earning housing to, housing as a right.

The organization has affected the lives of thousands and Dee Dee Wiley is a current example.

Dee Dee Wiley grew up in Utah, raised by LDS Parents. Her parents divorced but Wiley credited her stepdad as a good LDS father. She rebelled against church standards as a teenager, feeling they constrained her.

“I didn’t like being told what to do,” said Wiley.

She left home the day she graduated, married at age 20 and had three children quickly after.

Her life spiraled downwards as she began gaining weight, eventually turning to drugs to help.

She got married to the father of her two youngest children. He worked for a company producing airplane parts for the government and made a good salary. A few years after the marriage he had a stroke. He survived but changed forever. Doctors predicted he’d die within a year.

Without a college education, Wiley left to California to seek out higher learning. She enrolled in a new nursing program at a community college close to her father’s family.

Her husband hated California and despite his condition sought a divorce. Determined for a successful future, Wiley finished her degree. They stayed there many years but returned to Utah, seeking a happier environment for her children.

“I left too soon”, Wiley said.

The money they had come with ran out and they checked into the Road Home for the first time.

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The Road Home helped getting them housing quickly, unfortunately for Wiley finding a job proved difficult.

Her California driver’s license had expired. Complications arose when the name on her current California license didn’t match the name on her previous Utah record. She tried to use her divorce decree as evidence but it wasn’t certified. She needed 75 dollars to receive another one but she didn’t have the money.

Unable to prove who she was, she couldn’t find a job and when they couldn’t pay their rent, she took her family back to the Road Home.

Depression affected Wiley and she turned to drugs to escape the pain of leading her children into this life. Thankfully for her, her 16 year old daughter told staff about the drug use and Dee Dee was able to get clean.

She found a man at the shelter and he had a job. Desperate to leave, she moved out with him hoping to begin her new life.Hidden by the Road Home’s anti-alcohol policy, Wiley didn’t know about the man’s alcoholism.

“I didn’t get better twice for that,” said Wiley.

She wanted the best for her children and together, they went back to the Road Home. Since then Wiley has saved her children’s social security money, disbursed because of her ex-husbands death.

She sent for her divorce decree and received her driver’s license yesterday. The Road Home has helped her make an appointment next Tuesday with an employment specialist, and Wiley doesn’t think it will be long before she finds work.

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With 13 percent of families returning to the shelter after they move out, Wiley hopes to be a part of the majority.

The road home can add one more success story to contribute to next year’s figures.

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