ST. GEORGE – The St. George City Council toured the Switchpoint Community Resource Center in St. George Thursday and were given a review of the center’s first year of operation.
“We’ve had a super busy year,” Carol Hollowell, Switchpoint’s executive director, told council members as they walked through the facility. She also noted that some of the City Council members hadn’t seen the facility since it opened.
Switchpoint began operations in September 2014 and serves as much more than a homeless shelter. It is a place where multiple services have come together to help individuals and families in need move past poverty.
The facility itself came about as a result of the City of St. George taking a more active role in aiding the homeless and those in need in the community.
Between September 2014 and September 2015, Switchpoint served 900 people as an emergency shelter; helped find housing for 581 families and individuals; distributed over 952,000 pounds of food through its pantry; provided food to over 2,356 individuals through the pantry; and has done case management for over 1,100 people.
“These numbers – I think they’re impressive,” Hollowell said.
The City Council members agreed, many calling Switchpoint’s objective of helping people move beyond poverty a success thus far.
“It’s amazing,” Mayor Jon Pike said.
Hollowell took the council through the facility’s check-in process, which included having applicants fill out a survey that gives staff an idea of who the most vulnerable among their applicants are and which services to provide accordingly.
“We serve those who are the most vulnerable first,” Hollowell said.
For safety reasons, Switchpoint staff keep any weapons and medications belonging to residents in a safe. The St. George Police Department also maintains a substation at Switchpoint for added security.
For those individuals and families who become residents for a time, Switchpoint has beds spread across 12 rooms. Sections are separated by gender, while four of the rooms are dedicated to housing families.
As the council passed into the kitchen area of the facility, Hollowell pointed to some of the volunteers who help prepare food for the residents.
“We love our volunteers,” Hollowell told the council, adding Switchpoint wouldn’t be able to operate without them.
There are around 200 volunteers who provide an estimated 26,500 hours of service at the facility.
Financially and materially, Switchpoint is supported through various donations and grants from private and public sources.
The council members were then led to Switchpoint’s lower level, where they encountered a group of children participating in one of the facility’s after-school programs. Together with some of the Switchpoint staff, the kids were making and painting pinewood derby racers.
Through its partnership with various agencies and nonprofits, Switchpoint is able to offer a plethora of services that aid its residents and others.
In addition to acting as an emergency shelter, Switchpoint’s other services include: educational assistance (getting a GED), employment assistance, parenting classes, job and family services, housing assistance, acquiring a birth certificate and identification, mental health services, financial/budget assistance, a food pantry and other services.
The facility also offers alcohol and drug abuse services that include meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous 12-step programs.
The AA and NA groups are held nine times a week and usually draw between 30-35 people, Hollowell said. The groups are not limited to residents of Switchpoint and can be attended by members of the community, as well.
With everything Switchpoint does, the organization also asks for action on the part of those who benefit from its services. Residents are given action plans to follow, and if they don’t, they may find themselves kicked out of the facility.
“We’re not babysitting,” Hollowell said. “We’re holding them accountable. … We’re not a flophouse.”
The council was then led to Switchpoint’s 4,500-square-foot pantry, which opened in August. The pantry cost around $300,000 to build and is supplied by the Utah Food Bank.
Hollowell and her husband recently embarked on a cross-country bicycle ride and stayed in homeless shelters along the way. The purpose of the 3,000-mile trek from California to Washington, D.C., was to raise awareness of homelessness in America. While on the excursion, Hollowell said she never encountered any other facility like Switchpoint.
“No one else had a community resource center,” she said, adding that Switchpoint is a unique, “out of the box” concept when it comes to dealing with homelessness.
While in Washington, D.C., Hollowell met with Utah Sens. Orin Hatch and Mike Lee and brought some publicity to what Switchpoint is accomplishing, she said, adding Lee was especially supportive of the facility.
Following the tour, Councilman Jimmie Hughes, who also sits on the Washington County Local Homeless Coordinating Council, praised what Switchpoint has accomplished.
“It’s awesome,” Hughes said. “This is what we envisioned as a council, and I think it’s incredible and it’s working out really well.”
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