Governor says homelessness need not be helplessness

By Kalli White

SALT LAKE CITY  — Gov. Herbert, R-Utah, rallied alongside Utah’s service organizations and invited all citizens to “step up” and donate money on their tax forms in behalf of the homeless throughout the state.

“Despite our healthy economy, which is best in America today, we have people who are struggling out there,” Herbert said. “There is an opportunity for you to give back to your community and to help your fellow man.”

The opportunity is found in the Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust Fund, which receives donations from individuals and businesses via tax forms each year.

All donations to the fund are directly distributed to service organizations statewide that work with the homeless throughout Utah. Although donations to the fund were up $10,000 in 2015, donations have been decreasing over the past several years.

Pamela Atkinson, the director of homeless service organizations and a woman who is affectionately referred to as “the Mother Teresa of Utah” said that to her, the fund is not about the numbers. Instead, it’s about making a difference in people’s lives and providing health care for those in need.

Gov. Herbert and Pamela Atkinson launch annual homelessness tax fundraiser. (Kalli White)

“Health care is one of the most important parts of our everyday lives,” Atkinson said. “I am grateful for this fund and for the people in this state who contribute to it, because every single dollar goes towards changing people’s lives.”

Utah taxpayer Josh Green of Clearfield likes knowing where his donated dollar would be going, a luxury he says he doesn’t have when he gives cash to a homeless person on the street.

“Sometimes I feel bad for them and ask if I can buy them food or something, but I would feel more comfortable giving directly to organizations I knew were going to help them instead of paying for their drugs,” Green said.

According to Herbert, Utah has made great strides in dealing with chronic homelessness and eliminating poverty in the state. While the national poverty rate is 15 percent, Utah is a third lower at only 10 percent.

Still, Herbert was emotional. “It’s important that we reach our hand out and help our brothers and sisters,” Herbert said. “It doesn’t matter what the cause is or who’s to blame or who’s at fault, the question is what are we going to do to help them.”

Maxine Gavin, a student volunteer from the University of Utah said, “You see a need and you want to help any way you can, at least that is how I feel.”

Gavin has been volunteering at Pamela Atkinson’s Fourth Street Clinic since the start of the school year and says it has been the most rewarding volunteer work she has ever experienced.

“Honestly, I can see the transformation the clinic is making in these peoples lives,” Gavin said. “And anytime you see a person on the street asking for money it’s proof that places like this need to exist and need funding.”

Utah residents can donate to the fund by contributing at least three dollars on their tax forms this year, and Atkinson believes everybody who contributes is part of the team that is saving and changing lives.

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