Ignored statistics: acknowledging Black resources for domestic violence and sexual assault

Story by NINA TITA

National domestic violence cases have increased 8.1% since the coronavirus stay-at-home mandates began in March 2020. According to a new study by the National Commission of COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, there is a need “for additional resources for domestic abuse prevention and victim services.”

Utah nonprofit organizations like the YWCA, The Sojourner Group and We Will, are dedicated to helping all victims. They are focusing on acknowledging the historical trend of neglect in the Black community.

It is expected that more than 40% of Black women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research’s Status of Black Women in the United States. In comparison, 31.5% of all women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

Liz Owens, Utah’s CEO for the YWCA, said Black women have always faced hardship with lack of resources.

“In the domestic violence community in marketing you often hear that all domestic violence doesn’t discriminate, it happens across socioeconomic lines and across cultures. And although that is true, access to resources by which to mitigate and escape violence looks different based off of our identities,” Owens said in a Zoom interview.

This is what Owens has been passionate about in her career, intersectionality, the analyzation of how our identities can determine privilege or discrimination.

“I was really moved in part by my own experience and understanding what it was like as a Black multiracial woman, young girl at the time, growing up in a white community,” Owens said. 

Her work at YWCA comes at an interesting time. There has been an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. Owens said the YWCA and other sister shelters are always at capacity or overflowing with people in need. The lack of resources means that not everyone who shows up for help can actually get it. She and her team work together with organizations trying to find places to send women when they are over capacity.

“Based off of the anticipated 2020 census numbers, we have an over-representation of communities of color and every color of community that is reported, except for in the Asian community, and that is in our domestic violence services,” Owens said.

The YWCA also offers a variety of other services, including an emergency shelter, the Salt Lake City Family Justice Center (which provides walk-in services), transitional and affordable housing, and children services.

One in particular has stood out to Owens this past year, the community-facing groups of women of color who come to heal together.

Carol J. Matthews-Shifflett, founder and CEO of the Sojourner Group, started her nonprofit with the same goal in mind — bringing together Black women. She created Sistah Circle, an open discussion group to help connect and create conversation for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Shifflett was struck years ago, when a woman approached her with deep gratitude for her work saying, “I have never had a group where Black women can come and talk, it feels comfortable. Because there’s so many white therapists they don’t understand our experience,” Shifflett said in a Zoom interview.

Shifflett’s passion for her work started decades ago when she worked as the volunteer and donation coordinator at the YWCA after completing her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology. This is where she had an encounter that she calls her “turning point.” Shifflett recalls talking to a new woman at the shelter many years ago about her experience living there and the harassment she was facing.

“I reported it and three weeks later I saw that woman and I said, ‘So how did the conversation go?’ Because I knew that it was reported. And she said, ‘No one has talked to me.’ So, I reported it again and in reporting it again I got a message a couple of hours later that it’s been ‘handled.’ And I never saw that woman again. She was gone.”

Shifflett, deeply impacted by that experience, went on to get her master’s degree in community leadership. She gave various presentations about how Black women are historically dismissed from the conversation.

Then everything changed in May 2020 when George Floyd’s murder launched a nationwide movement. Shifflett opened up the conversation to men about healthy masculinity and the male experience, something completely new.

“Listening to Black men talk about America from their perspective, it was like re-educating America about the experiences of Black men,” Shifflett said.

Her work continues to impact the Black community in Utah particularly through education. Shifflett has various presentations, trainings and workshops online to help build relationships and open dialogue about critical race issues that impact the Black community. Her mission is to help push for change in the white community.

“What I have learned is there is a resistance, a resistance to us telling our truth. Because the story has been one way throughout history and so we always have to prove that this happened. It’s a lot of research, a lot of strain to constantly, constantly prove that what you’re saying is right. That’s exhausting,” Shifflett said.

Brittney Herman has invested hours in research. Herman is founder of We Will, a nonprofit dedicated to sexual assault prevention. She has spent hundreds of hours working on House Bill 177, aimed to amend health education in the state of Utah by providing required curriculum for sexual violence behavior prevention and sexual assault resource strategies. The bill failed in the house, but it did not deter Herman.

“Research shows that where there is sufficient sexual education, sexual assault is far less prevalent,” she wrote in an email.

Herman, although not part of the Black community, is passionate about sexual assault prevention and mitigation in Utah for all groups. She writes that Black women are more likely to experience assault for many reasons, the most prominent include the “hyper-sexualization of women of color and how that message subliminally indicates to perpetrators that they do not need consent from these women,” Herman wrote.

Shifflett echoes the same sentiments, saying young Black girls are looked at more sexually, in a way young white girls are not.

“We need to start protecting our young Black girls,” Shifflett said.

Herman’s nonprofit provides formal and informal education on sexual assault prevention, survivor support and community growth. Having started We Will from a personal experience of being sexually assaulted, Herman can empathize and relate to the aftermath of surviving an experience. Her goal is to provide all survivors the support they need following a crisis to help them heal.

“As we continue to support and empower survivors, perpetrators and would-be perpetrators will recognize that their actions will not go unnoticed, that their victims will not be silenced, and that they cannot harm others,” Herman said.

If you or someone you know have or are currently experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault contact:

Utah’s Sexual Violence 24 hour crisis line: 1-888-421-1100

Utah Domestic Violence LINKLine: 1-800-897-LINK (5465)

Resources:

Utah Domestic Violence Coalition

Utah Coalitions Against Sexual Assault

University of Utah Friday Forum tackles racial inequity

Story by MASON HARDY

A panel of leaders in community philanthropy met Feb. 26, 2020, for a virtual Friday Forum focused on efforts to achieve racial equity in the workplace and the impact of philanthropy on communities of color. University of Utah President Ruth Watkins acted as moderator to the forum.

On the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion website, Friday Forums are described as a way to bring in “national thought leaders to lead discussions and provide opportunities for participants to share ideas on actionable items towards a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus.”

Clockwise from top left: University of Utah President Ruth Watkins with Kym Eisner (Craig H. Nielsen Foundation), Valerie Rockefeller (Rockefeller Brothers Fund), Corie Pauling (TIAA Financial Services). Caroline Altman Smith (Kresge Foundation).

Watkins began the forum by asking Corie Pauling, chief inclusion and diversity officer of the TIAA, to share her perspective of philanthropy and the kinds of interests in institutions that she has seen.

“Equity is the promise of what inclusion stands for. It is some of the gaps that we see in education, socioeconomics, health care and unemployment. We are going to tackle those,” Pauling said.

She said 2020 was an eye-opening year for many American citizens regarding the reality of modern-day racism. She talked about philanthropist organizations, and the intent to make racial inequity less of a moment and more of a movement, making investments accordingly.

“What was really groundbreaking about it was that it unearthed a desire to talk about anti-racism as a calling and obligation, and responsibility of everyone,” she said.

Pauling emphasized the importance of data when it comes to social and racial equity as it relates to inequality in America. She said making an investment in accurate data can form complete opinions of “what is my role in this?”

To put racial inequity and racial injustice into perspective and give some context to what the panelists discussed, a July 2020 Brookings survey of 5,500 nationally representative respondents from each of the 50 states, revealed the following:

  • 1 in 3 Black men born in 2001 will spend time in prison in their lifetime
  • 1 in 1,000 Black men and boys will die at the hands of police
  • 1 in 3 Black children live in poverty
  • 1 in 10 Black adults were not able to pay rent or mortgage in the past three months

The information listed above is only a small portion of the results from that survey.

“It’s hard to argue with data,” Pauling said.

Watkins asked panelist Caroline Smith, deputy director of the Kresge Foundation’s education program, to discuss the research the foundation is doing.

She said the organization surveyed people to see what it should focus on in the next three years. The response overwhelmingly called for racial justice.

“We did this survey at the end of 2020. I don’t think you would have seen that answer at the end of 2019 or the end of 2018. It’s certainly quite indicative of the racial reckoning that began in the last year,” Smith said.

Watkins acknowledged the work the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation is doing with the University of Utah to help advance diversity and inclusion.

Kym Eisner, executive director of that foundation, brought up its research, and the focus on researching data for policymakers.

“Being able to get good, solid, evidence-based information into their hands to inform decision making, is a very valuable contribution,” she said.

Smith emphasized the work of researchers to improve racial equity in the workplace, and called on them to make a difference in the community.

The Friday Forum series are free events for the community and students to attend. They offer a way for Salt Lake City residents to gain a better perspective of the community around them. Prior forums covered “A Call for Racial Healing,” “Confronting our Racism” and Establishing Anti-Racist Policy.”

For more information, or to sign up for future events, visit the website.

A video-on-demand version of the Racial Equity and Philanthropy Friday Forum is available here.

Basketball star-turned-coach; Vanessa McClendon is paving the way for girls basketball in the Pacific Northwest

Story by BRYNNA MAXWELL

Fighter. Go getter. Resilient. Difference maker. These are the words that come to mind when describing Vanessa McClendon. 

Former college athlete-turned-coach McClendon’s life is all about basketball. She was highly recruited in high school and earned a full ride basketball scholarship to the University of Oregon. Her talent would have taken her far professionally, but a career-ending knee injury forced her to retire early. 

Now, McClendon uses her basketball knowledge and love for the game by coaching her travel team organization, Northwest Magic. With teams scattered across Western Washington, McClendon and her husband have built a program that has become a household name in the Pacific Northwest basketball community. 

Vanessa McClendon has had a successful career from playing basketball in college, to now coaching the Northwest Magic. Photo courtesy of Vanessa McClendon.

In the youth basketball world, travel organizations like the Northwest Magic play a critical role. The travel teams not only help young players develop their basketball skills, but they also provide a platform for exposure of these players to college coaches as they chase their dreams of a basketball scholarship. These teams travel the United States to compete in tournaments in the AAU circuit, which is a travel team circuit that takes players and their teams all around the country to play basketball. 

Back in 2008, McClendon had just one scrappy team of teenage girls and an outsized vision for the future. She now has 22 teams — 14 for girls and eight for boys — that compete on a weekly basis around the nation.

University of Utah women’s basketball alumna Megan Huff was on that first AAU team McClendon assembled in 2008. 

“Since I started playing for Magic, Coach Vanessa was always someone I looked up to,” Huff said in an email interview. “When I walked into Magic tryouts, I was shy, uncomfortable in my own body, and insecure about my height and skills. I had no knowledge about basketball or about myself. But, through the whole thing I always knew that Coach Vanessa believed in me and was someone I could always count on.”

That first team McClendon coached produced four big name, Division I college athletes. This included Huff who, after graduating from the University of Utah, got drafted by the New York Liberty in the third round of the 2019 WNBA draft

“Magic was like family to me,” Huff said. “The lessons I learned helped me in college when I was deciding to transfer (from the University of Hawaii to the University of Utah). I knew how to handle the situation with open communication and honesty.”

When asked how McClendon separated her program from other teams in the state of Washington Huff said, “I knew the way things should be when a coach really cared about the individual and not just the organization.”

McClendon’s coaching has greatly impacted many young basketball players, and the teaching does not stop when she leaves the court. Her intentionality to connect with individuals has helped players learn life lessons away from basketball.

Huff said, “My journey was not an easy one but through the whole thing I always knew that Coach Vanessa believed in me and was someone I could always count on. For advice, knowledge, a ride, or a workout I knew I could always count on her and still can even to this day.”

Megan Huff shoots a jumper over a Washington State player in a collegiate basketball game. Photo courtesy of Megan Huff.

McClendon agrees that Northwest Magic is a special and empowering team to be a part of in order to help players get ready for the next level. 

“Our players go to college, and they are impact players right away,” McClendon said. “They can play in a system they’re used to. Some of the stuff that we’ve done, like the way we run practices, they’re used to it already, so I think that differentiates us.”

Current players in the Magic program have been working hard to improve and agree that McClendon has already helped them. 

Sixteen-year-old Tala Mitchell has been a part of the program since she was in the fifth grade. 

“Coach Vanessa brought me out of my comfort zone,” Mitchell said. “In the beginning I wasn’t really a talkative person and was a little shy. She taught me how to speak up and communicate with my team on the court.”

During her interview, she was surrounded and supported by her Northwest Magic teammates, showing how close the bond is that has been formed from her unique basketball experience.

“There are other teams in Washington, but I feel like the people who have been here are very welcoming,” Mitchell said. “When new people come (to join our team), they enjoy us, so they come back and that helps us create bonds that last.”

Mitchell has built lasting memories from her time in the program and has made lifelong friends because of her experience with the Magic. The point guard has already had a strong couple years in high school and only hopes to keep improving. 

Sitting at a table next to a noisy gym for the interview, McClendon looked around at the organized chaos that surrounded her coming from several of her practicing Northwest Magic teams. 

She smiled.

“It is so great to see the full circle of Magic players come through. We have the girls just starting out, to the alumni coming back to show support and it is just so cool,” McClendon said. “I want Magic to continue to develop college-ready players, and then I’d love to see my players that have moved on, just come back and pay it forward.”

Vanessa McClendon established Northwest Magic from the ground up and continues to grow the program. However, there are challenges in this business.

Because McClendon believes every kid should have an opportunity to play, she routinely covers travel expenses for players who cannot afford it. These include hotel costs, plane tickets, food, and tournament fees.

“The biggest challenge right now is money,” McClendon said. “You know, a lot of families can’t afford to do what we do when we have to travel, and so the biggest challenge is trying to fundraise, or get sponsorships for the kids that need to get out there, because we know we have the kids but not everybody can afford to get to these exposure events.”

Setting up fundraisers and collecting donations are the most common ways to raise money, but McClendon is not fazed by the obstacles. 

“Basketball is my passion,” she said. “There is no place I would rather be than in a gym coaching these kids.”

Mindfulness and holistic wellness blossoms in Salt Lake City’s Latinx community

Story and photo by JASMINE BARLOW

Sacred Energy Empowerment Center (SEEC) and Latino Behavioral Health Services are creating dynamic, inclusive, and accessible spaces for Latinx individuals in the Salt Lake City area to explore holistic health options.

Jomar Hernandez, an accredited holistic coach from Venezuela, is leading Spanish-speaking group meditations and healing circles at SEEC. Additionally, Hernandez offers private coaching and organizes large-scale events. She says her events are amassing an impressive turnout, and she is excited for future projects.

Hernandez’s unwavering passion and commitment to holistic wellness stem from her bravery of battling an early phase of cancer, diagnosed in 2013. “I was very scared of what was going on and how it will affect my family,” Hernandez says. “I returned to my meditation practice and participated in healing circles for comfort, like I did back in Venezuela.”

Hernandez recalls an “empowering treatment experience” during her stay at the Sanoviv Holistic Institute in Mexico. A variety of holistic-based treatments were implemented, a type of medical experience unfamiliar to Western societies. “It was there I began to connect with health coaches, and I fell in love [with this path],” Hernandez says.

Jomar Hernandezsmall

When it comes to addressing individual client needs, she has a simple approach: “The biggest question I ask [my clients] is this: ‘How open are you?’ And that’s where the process of true healing begins.” In relation to her Latin American roots, she feels the overarching culture surrounding holistic healing in Latin America is an “ancient practice,” and says she is honored to bring this essence of sacredness to helping Latinx women, her target client demographic.

Her line of work is not exempt from challenges, with difficulties ranging from establishing a client network to tackling misconceptions surrounding coaching. “It has been a little bit complicated because the people really don’t know about how a coach can help,” Hernandez says. “They usually come to me if they want to lose weight. [However], when [the clients] start asking questions about their health problems and diet, they realize there is an emotional part that we need to go deeper into.”

Hernandez believes her “Before and After” photo approach is a highly-effective tool, where clients can see a physical manifestation of emotional progression and positive change in their demeanor following a session. “It brings me so much joy to see how much they are glowing and growing,” she says.

Healing takes many forms, and mental health therapy is a crucial aspect of the holistic equation. For Latinx communities, there is a dimension of unique importance. Latino Behavioral Health Services (LBHS) serves such a purpose in the heart of Salt Lake City. It is dedicated to helping vulnerable members of Utah’s Latinx community recover from mental illness and addiction.

Diana Aguilera, a Peer Programs coordinator at LBHS, describes the foundational incentive in creating the award-winning, nonprofit organization: “[LBHS] saw the need for mental health services in Spanish,” she says. “It is a peer-run organization, helping substance abuse and mental health issues for individuals and family members.” Deemed a “softer approach,” Aguilera finds that peer mentorship “makes it easier for people to open up, as if everyone in the room completely understands you.”

Aguilera says deep stigma and economic barriers are prominent factors that may discourage the local Latinx community from seeking help. “Mental health services are so unapproachable,” she says. “You are calling someone up, saying you need help. It’s hard for people to do. On top of that, it can be very expensive.”

Aguilera believes that Latinx cultures may view mental health as a “character weakness” or something that is chosen. “We have families come in, where parents feel they have failed as caretakers,” she says. Empathizing and addressing these commonly-held beliefs, LBHS offers a rich variety of mental health education and support classes to deconstruct stigma and strengthen connection with the self and others. Additionally, therapy services are offered by licensed professionals at a reduced cost to accommodate all economic levels.

Despite these challenges, Aguilera says she believes there is positive progress being made. “In the grand scheme, mental health is gradually becoming more accessible. At [LBHS], we are creating a wonderful community to heal. We don’t have the power to do it all, but we are creating a space where we are not ashamed to share our stories.”

Whether an individual’s healing journey aligns with mental health therapy, holistic health coaching, or both, Aguilera and Jomar Hernandez both emphasize the importance of spreading awareness and strengthening local outreach. These efforts cast a welcoming net to reach those who can benefit from their guidance and resources.

The Green Urban Lunch Box brings creative ways to solve hunger

Story by NINA YU

What started as a school bus converted into a mobile greenhouse, The Green Urban Lunch Box (GULB) quickly has become a local source that challenges communities to look at natural resources right in their backyard. The nonprofit is based in Salt Lake City and has multiple gardens across the Valley.

According to the GULB website, the mission is to “empower people to connect to their food and community by revitalizing urban spaces and building a resilient food culture. We envision a strong network of communities centered on the cultivation of food.” The farm is located on 3188 S. 1100 West.

The nonprofit focuses on allowing people to engage in local food production, urban agriculture, or fruit gleaning by using resources that are available in their community. The GULB tries to connect neighborhoods to the resources and opportunities. At the same time, the organization revitalizes urban spaces that have been neglected by growing food and sharing the crops with the broader community.

The Back-Farms program connects seniors to volunteers, who help with gardening. Photo Courtesy of GULB.

The GULB promotes three programs on the website. One of those programs is Back-Farms, which connects senior citizens with volunteers who help build and maintain gardens in the seniors’ backyards.

“The Back-Farms program is a free gardening program that we do with senior citizens,” said Katie Nelson, the executive director at GULB, in a phone interview. “We partner with seniors who are generally lower or fixed income, who are unable to take care of their yards. We come in with our staff and volunteers and teach people how to garden while gardening those seniors’ yards.”

The GULB shares the gardened produce with the seniors and volunteers. The Green Urban Lunch Box also offers markets at senior centers where the produce is free.

“We have 40 gardens in the Back-Farms program. They’re all over the community,” Nelson said. “We have several in Rose Park, a few in Fair Park, and some in Glendale. With our community partners, the GULB is able to go to senior centers all over Salt Lake County.”

Senior citizens are given a consistent amount of produce throughout the summer so they can rely on fresh vegetables and fruit. Any seniors who have a neglected garden they want to utilize can contact the GULB.

The FruitShare program is a partnership between fruit tree owners and volunteers who help harvest and distribute fresh fruit that would otherwise go to waste. An individual wanting to participate would have to register their fruit trees, request a scout when the tree is ready, and harvest the fruit. The fruit is distributed in three ways: the homeowner, volunteers, and toward hunger relief.

The last program that the GULB runs is the Small Farm Initiative. According to the site, it is “an urban training program that teaches people how to farm in urban spaces using sustainable growing practices and make money doing so.” The initiative is for those who want to learn more about farming and gardening. Prospective students can apply to the 8.5-month Farm Apprenticeship and School that focuses on space-intensive vegetable production. Students are taught organic gardening methods, business aspects of running a farm and hands-on activities from farm instructors.

People who are looking for a less intensive schedule can pick the On-Farm Internship, which teaches participants how to grow a lot of produce in a small amount of space. Successful participants have the opportunity to continue their studies with their farmer training program.

The GULB also recruits volunteers every season. In 2019, Nelson saw hundreds of volunteers coming in to help.

“Volunteers are the foundation of our organization,” she said. “Everyone usually contributes three to five hours a season. They are the reason for how much food we can produce and get into the community. They’re building gardens. They’re harvesting gardens. They’re also learning something in the process.”

This engagement aligns with the nonprofit’s mission statement. The GULB wants volunteers to immerse themselves in connecting with their food and being able to share the knowledge with family and friends. They also hope volunteers are able to teach others how to garden or explain the types of produce to spark interest.

Photo courtesy of GULB.

The farm has a team of staff members who direct volunteers. The team includes garden leaders who have an extensive grasp on gardening and being able to grow food. They also help facilitate events and maintain a good relationship with the senior citizens in the Back-Farms program. They see the seniors twice a week and bring the community to them. This way, senior citizens feel connected even if they are homebound.

In 2011, when Shawn Peterson founded the GULB, he wanted to challenge the way people thought food was grown. He purchased a bus, took the ceiling off and converted it into a greenhouse. The bus went to community events to show people that food can be grown in anything. It was also taken to classrooms to teach children about growing food. Now that the bus is not driven around anymore, it is used to grow seedlings for the farm.

The GULB works with different organizations throughout the county, like International Rescue Committee, Intermountain Medical Center, food banks, and multiple food pantries to help bring fresh produce to them every week.

“We’re trying to help the Latina population right now,” Nelson said. “We’re getting them engaged on our farm and providing them fruits and vegetables.”

The farm starts preparing for the season in spring. In early June, the organization starts producing food so that markets are ready to be opened in mid-July. The growing season usually ends in October, when the GULB members regroup and prepare for next season.

Local pantries struggle to meet the demand of COVID-19 virus in Utah

Story by ELLIE COOK

The hoarding situation that arose upon the arrival of the COVID-19 virus has only increased following the 5.7 earthquake that rattled the Salt Lake Valley on March 18, 2020. While the public hunts across the state for items such as toilet paper and paper towels, pantries in the community struggle to keep their shelves stocked to ensure those in need get the supplies not only needed for quarantine but also everyday survival. The organizations in the western area of Salt Lake City are scrambling to focus on inventory, while also having to serve many more people and adjust their protocols to meet safety needs implemented by the state of Utah. 

The community consists of many working-class and/or impoverished families, many of whom have a yearly income of less than $80,000 a year, said David Wright, director and educator of the Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry, in an email interview. Organizations that provide food security already serve a great population within the area, but the need only seems to be growing. The pantries have seen a significant increase in clientele since The Road Home, the main homeless shelter in Salt Lake City, closed downtown. Now as the virus forces more businesses to close, making the unemployment rates skyrocket and the earthquake damaging some homes, these organizations are struggling to find enough supplies and volunteers to tend to the large crowds pursuing their services. 

When asked about plans regarding situations such as natural disasters or other national emergencies, Captain Rob Lawler of The Salvation Army said in an email, “The Salvation Army has always been ready to respond to disasters and crisis since 1906 in Galveston, Texas, when we first responded as a response agency. You might say it is in our DNA!” 

However, it seems with the cards stacked against the state of Utah, just being prepared isn’t enough for anybody. While toiletries and other health/cleaning items are always in demand, the panic and hoarding issue the pandemic has caused has only made them even scarcer. “We do have an increased demand at this time,” said Kate Corr, the communications coordinator at Utah Community Action, in an email. “Right now, many clients are in greatest need of emergency services, primarily food, housing, and utility assistance. … At this time we will continue to do everything we can to keep providing essential emergency services to our children, families, and clients.”

While the inventory remains an issue, the ability to serve the community promptly has become hard as well, due to safety measures being taken to protect volunteers and the public. This becomes tough as everyone is short-staffed and in need of volunteers. It’s also time-consuming to take on new help because they must be screened to be sure they do not put people’s health at risk. 

Some organizations are no longer accepting new volunteers to protect current staff from exposure. “Our protocol is much more controlled and strict,” said David Wright. “We no longer have lines and instead are having clients with cars stay in their vehicles. Those without cars stay 10 feet away from each other.” The Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry, The Salvation Army and other organizations have also taken on drive-by pickup services. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic having an unknown end, and still in recovery from the earthquake, how can the public get help? Is there any assurance that people can get necessities, and also ensure that nonprofits can attend to the growing amount of clients? “As we see the fallout from businesses closing and people either losing jobs or having reduced work hours, our organization recommends that people consider applying for SNAP (otherwise known as food stamps),” said Gina Cornia, the executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, in an email. Utahns Against Hunger also provides lists of places where people can obtain essential items if they are not receiving an income. 

For the rest of us, any donations from food, cleaning supplies, and perhaps the most coveted item of all, some good old toilet paper, will be gladly received by any local pantry (please see list below). If you require assistance concerning food or other home essentials, reach out to Utahns Against Hunger or any of the listed sources. 

Earth Community Garden & Food Pantry

“We are looking for gardeners for this season. Growing your own, locally sourced food is proving to be more and more vital. Do not harm those around you. As an organization, we extend our services with no regards to; class, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, gender identity, immigration status, or social/political ideology, and we encourage others to extend themselves and their services (groups or individually) in the same way.”

Utahns Against Hunger 

“The benefits people get to purchase food have an immediate positive impact on the economy and that money circulates throughout every community.”

The Salvation Army

“We are making about 400 meals a day to take home, we are operating 7 days a week.”

 

Mestizo Coffeehouse provides spaces for community projects

Story and gallery by MEG CLASPER

Sometimes the best places are hard to find. Mestizo Coffeehouse, tucked in the Citifront Apartments at 641 W. North Temple, is one such hidden gem. It offers more than just coffee and pastries. It also supports causes.

Established 12 years ago, Mestizo filled a community need for a public meeting space. Since then over 50 organizations have met at the coffeehouse. “Someone said, ‘You do so much.’ We don’t do anything, we just provide the space for it,” said owner David Galván. 

Not everything that goes on at Mestizo is based around an issue or a cause. Many activities happen just for fun. Single people from the local congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold frequent comedy nights there. Clubs and groups meet at Mestizo. Many check-ins on its Facebook page come from bible study groups. Other events such as concerts and art walks are scheduled there too.

Gallery

The gallery is the largest meeting space in the coffeehouse. Two moveable wall sections allow for the room to be opened up to the main area. A small sitting area in the center of the gallery features a couch, coffee table and two large chairs. A piano and bass sit across from the couch allowing the room to be used for meetings or music. 

The walls of the gallery are home to pieces of art by local artists. Three month-long exhibits are scheduled to start in April. Each follows an overarching theme of displacement and gentrification: “March for Our Lives,” “Youth Custody,” “Tower of Stories.” They tell the story of how the west side of Salt Lake City is impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Events such as yoga, tango, musical performances, and larger gatherings are able to use the gallery. With the advantage of moveable walls, the gallery can be used along with the other spaces at Mestizo.

Secondary Space

The secondary meeting space is filled with tall tables. Bar chairs surround the tables leaving room for an additional standing crowd. A floor to ceiling window connects to the emergency exit. The window allows natural light into the space highlighting the blue, orange and red walls.

A stage area is reserved in the front left corner of the room. Two speakers are set up to allow those conducting events or meetings to be heard over the crowd. Events such as karaoke and comedy nights are held in this room, Galván said.

A doorway to Mestizo

The outside seating area is the first thing all visitors see when approaching the business. Hand-painted metal tables and chairs surround the rust-colored awning above the door. Each chair has its own color and designs that add character. The front door is framed by two windows, one of which is decaled with the poem “Mestizo” by Francisco X. Alarcon.

This space in addition to the main seating are more casual areas. Customers can sit, chat, relax, or even work in any area that isn’t reserved at the time.  

Atmosphere of Mestizo Coffeehouse

A large chalkboard calendar sits above the condiment bar. The calendar shows upcoming and weekly meetings. For example, tango happens every Sunday, an open mic night every Wednesday and a meeting of Furries (a group that enjoys animal cosplay) every Friday. This is able to show visitors to the coffeehouse what events are coming up that they might find interesting.

In the main sitting area of the coffeehouse, next to the ordering counter, is a mural depicting several people of all types in the same space. One man is playing a guitar, a woman is painting on a canvas, a few other people are conversing over a cup of coffee. The top of the mural reads MESTIZO (MIXED). In Spanish, mestizo means “mixed” in reference to cultures and families.

“A huge number of people end up here because of diversity,” Galván said.

Mestizo is known by many different groups around Salt Lake City. Students and staff at the University of Utah know the place well.

“Mestizo is an invaluable community space. They are always willing to host activity events, and they have great art and coffee too!” said Bryn Dayton, a senior at the U who works with social justice organizations on campus.

With the coffeehouse’s support and ability to provide space for them, organizations can connect and move forward. Its location is just on the border between west and east Salt Lake City, making it a convenient spot for groups from both sides to interact, work together, or enjoy a cup of coffee or a chai latte. The idea of mestizo in the surrounding community is supported by the coffeeshop. Mestizo Coffeehouse is an inspiration and invaluable space to the community of Salt Lake City.

Even in good times: the west side struggles

Story and photos by SPENCER BUCHANAN 

In February 2020, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., stirred up controversy when she said in part, “It’s a physical impossibility to lift yourself up by a bootstrap, by your shoelaces.”

Ocasio-Cortez and others explained further that the original meaning of the idiom “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” was meant as a joke and that the narrative has driven out good policy in helping struggling people. The narrative the idiom formed is one that disregards the barriers that the working-class and marginalized have to deal with, despite the recent economic gains and the shrinking unemployment rate. 

It can be hard to break into the job market. It can be particularly difficult for immigrants and refugees to find stable, well-paying employment. Many struggle to apply for jobs and even more face structural challenges in acquiring the skills and training necessary to qualify for positions. These problems can be found nationwide but the impact can be seen on the west side of Salt Lake City.

The west side has long been a working-class neighborhood and in recent years has become increasingly diverse. With large immigrant and refugee populations, residents of the west side often have to make huge adjustments to enter the American job market.

Organizations like the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) Hartland Partnership Center, the Rose Park Neighborhood Center, and the Utah Department of Workforce Services work to help west-side residents deal with barriers that are commonly overlooked.

“Individuals come in seeking support in finding jobs. So that can vary in need. Sometimes we’ll make resumes. We have a lot of templates and we’ll actually help make the resumes with individuals. And often we’ll just help apply for jobs,” said Amelia Cope, an intern at Hartland and social work student at the University of Utah.

Cope explained that those who come to Hartland need help with several issues. Many clients don’t have an email account or computer access, several don’t have transportation, and many speak English as a second language. 

The Rose Park Neighborhood Center at 754 N. 800 West.

Lenn Rodriguez, a site coordinator at Hartland, stated that beyond the technology gap and language difficulties, many recent immigrants and refugees have experienced or are experiencing trauma that can be debilitating. According to Rodriguez, this is why the Hartland Partnership Center also provides counseling and therapy for many new immigrants and refugees.

“A lot of the people that are coming here have trauma from wherever they came and haven’t processed that. That affects your ability to seek out employment and other services,” Rodriguez said. 

But a major problem that Rodriguez sees is the lack of “good jobs” and training for immigrants and refugees.

 “We work with a lot of professionals, also with people that hold degrees in other countries like engineers, doctors, teachers, from Iraq, from Syria, from El Salvador. They come here and they can’t work in that field that they studied. So they become cleaners, they work at the airport, and hotels,” Rodriguez said.

The University Neighborhood Partners Hartland Partnership Center, located at 1578 W. 1700 South.

Rodriguez stated that many professionals have to start again in education and training if they want to work in their original field. Unfortunately, many job seekers in the west side are suffering from a wider issue in the market.

“The problem is: it’s very difficult to do training,” said Cihan Bilginsoy, a professor in economics at the University of Utah who specializes in labor issues.

According to Bilginsoy, the nature of training and educating would-be job seekers is a costly and lengthy process. This process keeps many employers from implementing the necessary training or education that can lead to more stable, fulfilling, and well-paying jobs.

This cost and investment draws companies away from creating large training programs. He said many employers will instead invest in a few seasoned professionals and have other positions filled with very specifically trained but generally low-skilled employees. These “task-oriented” workers are put in vulnerable positions without marketable skills.

“These semi-skilled workers can be shed very easily, they receive low wages, they’re marginal and dispensable,” Bilgonsoy said.

The Associated General Contractors of Utah is one of the few organizations in the state that provides professional training.

In his research, Bilgonsoy has found that most western nations have a skills gap issue. Nations like Germany or Australia have created social and government structures that organize stakeholders like the government, the unions, and employers to cooperate and fund training in various fields. There have been pushes by the federal and some state governments to incentivize training programs mostly in the form of tax credits and work programs, but what’s being offered is often insufficient for companies to wholly invest into programs.

“We need to provide incentives for employers to provide training, we need to solve the problem of market failure in training. International evidence shows that states, or federal governments need to take a leading role in bringing together employers and trade unions, so these stakeholders share the risk,” Bilgonsoy said.

The challenges facing west-side residents go beyond Salt Lake City. The struggles that new immigrants, refugees, and the working-class have in finding gainful employment can be linked to a lack of skills necessary for an ever-advancing economy. Organizations like the Hartland Partnership Center do well to help west-side residents meet the basic needs for job seeking, but a large market and social change is necessary to meet the needs of the residents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utah’s Youth Resource Center is a goldmine for the youths experiencing homelessness

Story by NINA YU 

It’s a pleasant afternoon as teens filter through the doors of Utah’s Youth Resource Center. The large windows allow plenty of natural light and the walls are decorated with LGBTQ+ flags and informational posters that promote inclusivity.

For the youth who are experiencing homelessness in Utah, the Volunteers of America Youth Resource Center (YRC) enters as a first-step program to help these young lives get a boost when starting anew.

The Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Volunteers of America.

The YRC is a resource center and emergency shelter that serves youth ages 15-23 who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk. People are allowed to drop-in at any time before 7:30 p.m. to receive the help they need. It is located on 888 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City.

The center provides all the necessities for someone experiencing homelessness: essential basic need items, a food pantry, laundry, and showers.

Volunteers help serve three good meals a day. The YRC also has many divisions that help the youth with life skills, housing and employment, legal services, mental health, and access to medical care provided by Fourth Street Clinic.

Every day from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., the YRC becomes an emergency shelter with 30 beds. Most of these are either first-come, first-serve, or they’re made available through a randomized lottery system.

“We have a three-month program called the Self-Reliance Program (SRP) that will guarantee 15 people a bed,” said Byron Paulsen, the YRC program director. “They’re required to stay in the shelter a certain amount of nights. If someone enrolls for SRP and doesn’t show up, we don’t hold that bed for them when there are other youths waiting.”

The goal of the SRP is to help the youth experiencing homelessness to learn skills and overcome barriers that will then help integrate them back into the community and live life on their own. The program is operated by a clinician who offers mental health and substance abuse services. The SRP also helps youth with their education, if they choose to take advantage of it.

“One of the youths, who’s in the program, is working on getting his GED,” Paulsen said. “He’s super excited about it and is doing extremely well.”

Since the SRP is a program that requires the individual to be proactive in making progress toward getting out of homelessness, the center has strict requirements. Youths who are in the program are required to stay at the shelter four out of the seven nights per week. They are allowed to miss three nights but must communicate this to the shelter coordinator. Youths must set goals and are expected to continually make progress. They are encouraged to attend group sessions at the center that teach things such as independence but must attend weekly sessions with the program coordinator and a youth advocate. In 2019, approximately 700 youth accessed the services provided at the YRC.

If a youth fails to maintain these standards, they can be dismissed from the program and the position will be given to someone on the waitlist. Many of the youth who are either at-risk or destitute can have issues with timing, which is why the center encourages them to reapply in the future.

Although this may sound rigorous for these youths who are already experiencing homelessness, the YRC is not a place where the youth can just come and hang out. Volunteers and program coordinators strongly recommend taking advantage of all the services the center provides such as legal help, group meetings, or programs that help with getting out of homelessness.

The Youth Resource Center, located at 888 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Volunteers of America.

With a huge resource space like the YRC, there are 20-35 volunteers who come in daily to assist with various tasks and activities. Volunteers learn about Volunteers of America Utah from word-of-mouth, outreach programs, social media, and donors.

“Volunteers help serve three meals a day at the YRC. They usually stay and help for two hours, but there are a few that help out 10-20 hours a week,” said Alexis Brown-Brotherton, the corporate relations & volunteer engagement director, during a phone interview.

Many volunteering positions are open to those who want to help out, but Brown-Brotherton says they only consider positions for people 16 and older. Volunteer services also provide a one-on-one program, the Amplified Mentoring Program (AMP), that connects youth with a personal mentor who can help with skill development, attain self-sufficiency, and eventually build the youth into a successful member of the community.

Volunteers who are approved to be in AMP must go through a thorough background check and be committed to meeting up with their mentee once or twice a week. Brown-Brotherton says volunteers are always needed at the YRC and other centers. Currently, the organization is seeking more volunteers to serve meals at the Women’s Resource Center and the Center for Women and Children.

A department that is housed at the YRC is the Prevention Team. Prevention does not work with the YRC directly. Instead, it is an outreach program that helps at-risk youth with substance abuse and violence prevention. The team works with schools and other state-run programs to prevent youth from having to come to the YRC.

“With our partnership with the Division of Child and Family Services, we serve youth aging out of foster care,” said Alexa Wrench, the director of prevention services. “We help connect these youths to housing options in order to prevent them from experiencing homelessness.”

The Prevention Team’s outreach program looks for youths in second grade to high school who have a low attachment to their community, high levels of family conflict, and academic failure. Prevention also collaborates with the Youth Empowered Solutions to Succeed Program (YESS). Case managers work with teens to find stable housing and employment. It’s another program youth can take advantage of, if they need mental health therapy and support.

Mental health service access is limited in Salt Lake’s west side 

Story and photos by JACOB RUEDA

Residents in Salt Lake City’s west side face a lack of access to mental health and drug rehabilitation services. The area’s poverty level could affect residents’ access to care, although the immediate causal factor is undetermined. Other issues such as cost of treatment or zoning could explain why the area has an insufficient number of resources available. 

The Salt Lake County Health Department website says the county provides substance abuse prevention services through “community-based providers” by distributing information regarding drug abuse and prevention. However, the county itself does not provide treatment.

Child and Family Empowerment Services, at 1578 W. 1700 South, Suite 200, is one of the few mental health clinics in Salt Lake City’s west side.

Humberto Franco works at Social Model Recovery Systems, a nonprofit treatment facility in Los Angeles. Franco, a licensed professional in the healing arts, previously worked for a community-based health organization helping addicts in one of the poorest areas of the city. He says the cost of rehabilitation can impact access to it, especially in lower-income areas. But even with greater access, Franco says getting and maintaining qualified staff is a challenge facing treatment centers all around.

“People need to get that background in addiction and not only in psychology” in order for facilities to properly focus on treatment and rehabilitation, Franco says. Certifying and educating staff costs money, which raises the cost of services. With mental health and substance abuse issues becoming more prevalent, government has stepped in to help facilities in their treatment and rehabilitation efforts.

In September 2019, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration awarded each state $932 million to combat the opioid crisis. It was part of a $2 billion grant from the Trump Administration. 

Aaron, who asked not to be identified because he’s in recovery, says politicians are more in tune with the needs of recovery and mental health than one might think.

“There’s a lot of people lobbying for recovery,” he says. “There’s a lot of representatives that donate their time and effort into working with the recovery community.” During the Rally for Recovery that took place Feb. 21, 2020, at the Utah State Capitol, Aaron heard politicians address the issue of access to mental health and substance abuse care.

Despite government efforts to help centers through funding and initiatives, other financial and socioeconomic factors can affect access to care in low-income areas like Salt Lake City’s west side. When government does not provide, the burden of responsibility falls on a nonprofit group or private organization. 

“A lot of these programs here in Salt Lake City in particular, most of them are privately funded,” Aaron says. Rehabilitation programs can cost $5,000 a month to start. At such prices, individuals in low-income areas may find it difficult to afford treatment. Certifying and maintaining staff aside, rents and property taxes affect the overall price as well. Since taxes are higher in commercial and industrial areas, finding where to establish a treatment facility becomes crucial.

The abandoned Raging Waters Park is a few blocks east of Child and Family Empowerment Services in Glendale. The area is one of the few residential spots in Salt Lake City’s west side.

Salt Lake City’s west side has more industrial and commercial areas than residential, particularly west of Redwood Road. Aaron says his recovery began in a wilderness rehabilitation program for substance abuse. Centers for recovery are usually established in areas that are conducive to well-being. Industrial areas do not serve that purpose. Factors that go beyond zoning can affect access to treatment on the city’s west side.

Leilani Taholo, a researcher and licensed clinical social worker with Child and Family Empowerment Services, says the problem is more complex. She has worked in the field for 37 years developing culturally sensitive programs. She initially designed a trauma intervention program called “Kaimani,” which means “divine power from the wave or the ocean.”

Child and Family Empowerment Services is located in Glendale and is one of the areas in Salt Lake City’s west side where mental health services are readily available.

Her office is located in Glendale and is one of the few centers located on the west side. It provides mental health services through the county’s OPTUM program, which accepts Medicaid and is funded at the state and federal levels.

A lack of overall funding combined with adverse socioeconomic conditions make it difficult for public or private centers to establish themselves in west-side neighborhoods like Rose Park and Glendale, Taholo says.

“I’ve spoken with many colleagues who have said, ‘I’m not sure if I want to put my clinic in Rose Park or in the Glendale area,’” she says. Taholo says her colleagues believe their clients feel safer getting treatment at their east side facilities.

Heads of families in west-side neighborhoods tend to work more than one job to make ends meet. Going to a center at night might leave them susceptible to harm or criminal activity.

Combined statistics from the Salt Lake Police Department for January 2020 show a slight increase in crime activity in District 2 compared with District 1. District 2 starts at Interstate 15 and ends at around 8000 West and goes from Interstate 80 to 2100 South. District 1 goes from I-80 to roughly 2700 North and 900 West to about 8500 West.

Taholo says that despite the perceptions of the west side as being crime ridden, the on-campus shooting deaths of two University of Utah students in 2017 and 2018 refute the idea that crime is strictly a west-side problem.

Regardless of the situation, people from around the west side come to Taholo’s center for help. She says she is amazed at the resilience not just of her clients but the people in the area. “They have taken the few resources that they have,” she says, “and they make it last in ways that you and I would never come up with.”