Some Tooele residents are nervous about a homeless resource center planned for the old Sterling Harris Elementary building on First Street in Tooele City.
Some neighbors have voiced concerns and raised questions on social media about the future plans for the old school.
Switchpoint Community Resource Center, the non-profit organization that operates the current Thrift Store and Community Resource Center out of 34 S. Main Street in Tooele City explained their plans for the building at a Tooele City Council meeting earlier this month.
The Transcript Bulletin reported that Switchpoint told the Tooele City Council that they plan to have male and female emergency housing, housing for homeless families, a food bank, a kitchen, offices, 24-hour childcare, and a community center offering classes and activities, all within the building.
Christy Johnson, director of the Tooele Resource Center, said the emergency housing will be short-term and temporary.
“Switchpoint philosophy is to help homeless people and families at-risk to become independent,” Johnson said. “The idea will be to transition people out of the emergency housing into some kind of long term sustainable housing.The emergency housing is not meant to be permanent.”
The property will be fenced and staffed 24/7, according to Johnson.
“Each resident will be assigned to a trained caseworker,” Johnson said.
The Tooele City Council rezoned the Harris School property from R1-7, a single family zone designation, to MR-8, which allows multiple family dwellings in June 2019.
The Tooele County Housing Authority has received tax credit funding from the Utah Housing Corporation to build 66 apartments on the Harris School property.
The apartments will be permanent supportive housing, according to DeAnn Christiansen, director of TCHA.
To be known as the Harris Community Village, Christiansen said the Harris facility will be more of a homeless prevention program than a homeless center.
“Yes, we will provide services to homeless people and families,” Christiansen said, “but we will also have classes and programs for families in crisis and other community members that may be at risk of homelessness that will prevent them from becoming homeless.”
At the time of the rezone to MR-8, a prospective buyer was considering Harris Elementary for a recovery facility.
Johnson believes that Switchpoint current plans are in harmony with the MR-8 zoning, which allows for multiple housing units and residential support facilities and programs.
Johnson said that Switchpoint plans to have support groups for alcohol and other drug addictions meet at the Resource Center, but it will not be a residential treatment facility.
Classes such as parenting, budgeting, anger management, being a good tenant, and other soft skills will be taught at the center.
“These classes will be open to the public,” said Christiansen. “It will be a community center.”
Tooele City officials said they would need to take a closer look at what Switchpoint plans to do at the locations before they can determine if the uses might require a conditional use permit or possibly another zone change.
Tooele City Mayor Debbie Winn said she gave Switchpoint a letter of endorsement to seek grants for the current activities at Switchpoint’s existing facility in Tooele City.
Switchpoint is a non-profit organization that uses a combination of state and federal resources dedicated to helping homeless people along with private donations and funds raised by Switchpoint’s activities to fund their programs, according to Johnson.
Switchpoint, based out of St. George, came to Tooele last year at the encouragement of the county and a group of local citizens to help the homeless.
They operate the Tooele County Food Bank, the Tooele Thrift Store, Relief Services, and the Domestic Violence Shelter.
The Tooele County Housing Authority is the owner of the Harris Elementary building and surrounding property that was once owned by the school district. They have a memorandum of understanding with Friends of Switchpoint to operate the facility.
Friends of Switchpoint will have a community meeting to explain their plans and address questions towards the end of March. The specific date, time, and location will be announced.