The Homeless Challenge: Charitable Giving During The Holidays

“You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give” – Winston Churchill

I should probably start this with a number of disclosures:

  • I applaud the work of Mayor McAdams, the Miller family, Pamela Atkinson, the LDS church, and so many others trying to improve the homeless situation in Salt Lake City.
  • I served on the board of trustees for The Road Home for many years, and served as President of that board during my tenure.
  • Every organization can improve; especially The Road Home.
  • I have been out of active involvement with The Road Home for almost a year, and am frankly not even closely following the discussions any longer.
  • I am, and will continue to be, a donor to The Road Home.
  • When it comes to charitable donations, I hate endowments and infrastructure.  In my opinion they are necessary evils.  I prefer to have as much of my money directly helping as many people as quickly as possible.

Given all of that, I read with a great deal of interest this article from Katie McKeller on the progress of the Miller family’s generous matching gift to support the construction of three new homeless resource centers.

It’s fascinating (and sad) that only $1.2 Million has been donated so far including $1 Million from the Salt Lake County Housing Authority and $100,000 from the Shumway family.  It’s sad, but I understand the struggle.

First, $52 Million for three homeless resource centers (over $17 Million each)?!? Consider that we built the family shelter in Midvale (capacity of 300 beds) for less than half of $17 Million.  Granted I’m biased about Midvale (see here and here), but $17 Million seems extraordinary to me.

I’m probably wrong, but it seems to me that this whole process being run is just trying to throw money at the problem.  I believe that tactic is exactly backwards.

Second, The Road Home has a deep and longstanding fundraising base (including the Miller family who have been very supportive).  The Road Home has their annual media-thon coming up before Christmas (donate here) and I believe many people are like me and prefer to see their donations help people immediately rather than build buildings.

Finally, The Road Home has been the grateful recipient of what most people would consider their “homeless donations” over the years.  I believe that the efforts of some in the community to suggest The Road Home is part of the problem are making many donors feel guilty about past donations.  I believe those donors are now less likely to give to the homeless problem now or in the future.  If donors don’t feel guilty, they’ll likely continue just giving to The Road Home (I know I am).

Working with homeless people is both incredibly challenging and also rewarding.  I LOVED my time trying to help in that capacity.

However, I will not be donating to the Miller family match.  I helped build one homeless center (pictured above) for families.  I helped only little bit, but The Road Home did it on budget and on time.  Unfortunately, since it opened it has been filled to capacity.  Many helped more than I did, but it remains my most important professional accomplishment.  I continue to pray that it gets used as little as possible, but I’m grateful that it is there for those families in need.

Honestly, I’m ready for others to feel the same urgency, frustration, and exhilaration.


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