Monday , September 11, 2017 - 5:15 AM
Laura Mireles of San Antonio, Texas, waits at the Ogden Trax station on her way out of town Aug. 23, 2017. Mireles said her two months she spent stranded in Ogden were both a curse and a blessing. She complained about her stay at the Lantern House shelter, saying people there are not treated well.
OGDEN — The memory of the two months Laura Mirales spent homeless in Ogden will always be a nightmare and a blessing — despite the challenges she faced, she cherishes the friends she met.
Mirales found herself without a place to stay after she left her wallet behind at an Ogden restaurant on a bus ride back home to Texas. She said she went back inside to try to find it, and when she came back outside, the bus was gone and her belongings were left on the curb.
She went to the Lantern House shelter, at 269 W. 33rd St. Without referral to the shelter from another agency, she had to follow protocol and sleep in the diversion area, also sometimes called “overflow” — where the line to check in begins processing at 11 p.m. and check out is at 5 a.m.
Mirales stuck to this sleepless schedule for four nights before she could become a resident of the shelter for the rest of her stay.
“Sometimes, I would sleep in the park or on the sidewalk,” she said. “They would call the police if I was asleep on the sidewalk. We could not go inside during the day. We would have to stay outside.”
In two months, she said her family back in San Antonio, Texas, finally pooled their money for a $150 plane fare from Salt Lake City.
Mirales described her time at the shelter as torturous. She recalled seeing young families spend all day in the heat, and claimed she saw food taken away from a mother and young child after the kid was too noisy.
She said she also was upset to see center staff throwing out residents’ personal items if they weren’t put away in bins provided by the shelter.
However, shelter organizers and supporters say strict rules are exactly why Lantern House won’t suffer the same problems reported at The Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City, where police descended last month in an effort to crack down on spiraling drug-related crimes.
“We understand people are homeless for a reason and some have trouble taking responsibility and following rules and structure,” Jennifer Canter, executive director of the Lantern House, wrote in an e-mail to the Standard-Examiner. “However, we believe strongly that we can help anyone that comes to us if they are willing to let us help and they agree to participate, admit they need help and take responsibility for their situation and participate in their road to recovery.”
On Monday, Aug. 21, Ogden City and law enforcement officials gave a tour of Lantern House to Keith D. Squires, Utah’s commissioner of public safety. The officials touted the shelter’s environment, which they said helps people get out and onto their feet quickly.
Ogden Police Department Chief Randy Watt said he invited Squires on the tour so the commissioner could learn more about rules being enforced at the shelter. Watt believes strict rules keep Lantern House’s residents motivated to escape homelessness and leave the location, he said.
“They are about ensuring proper behaviors to make sure people are truly interested in changing their lives before they spend significant resources on them,” Watt said.
All residents are given notice of the rules when they come in, Canter said.
“Every person that sleeps at the shelter even for one night must complete and sign every page of the packet, which includes the list of rules,” Canter said in her e-mail.
One major difference between the Lantern House and other shelters is separation between the residency program and the diversion center, Canter said.
Canter said they don’t allow people to stay indefinitely. It’s meant to be a 90-day shelter but people can get kicked out if they aren’t following the rules or they can stay longer on a case-by-case basis “if it’s in their best interest to stay,” Canter said.
Dan Nixon, chairman of Lantern House’s board of directors, said if residents can’t follow the facility’s rules, they’re not welcome there.
A big rule is requiring a valid Utah ID. Lantern House runs a program to help a homeless person get one — and they can’t stay if they don’t, Nixon said.
“This requirement (for ID) helps us to identify and know every person we are serving and may eventually house,” Canter said. “We do not want to harbor any one fleeing from law enforcement, engaging in criminal activity or praying on our truly homeless population.”
Among other rules, Nixon said there is no tolerance for drugs and alcohol. Clients in the program are given daily breathalyzer test and leave if they aren’t — overflow is still available to them, though, Nixon said.
Those who stay at the shelter must also be OK with their prescription drugs being put in lockers while they’re there, Nixon said.
Otherwise, all bags are searched. Daily showers are required. Fighting isn’t allowed. There are space limitations for the personal items clients can bring into the shelter.
Canter said clients are also required to participate in case management for residency at the shelter.
“We require all residents ... to communicate with their case manager at least once a week in an effort to monitor their progress and celebrate success, modify a goal plan or impose a consequence.”
The bottom line is that all clients must be engaged in the process of overcoming homelessness. The shelter’s clients average 24 days between the time they enter the shelter and leave with employment — the best record in the state, Nixon said.
Working closely with police has improved efforts to enforce rules, Nixon said. A new parole office is opening at the shelter so a full-time parole officer to be present to work with Lantern House clients, he said.
Since Squires toured Lantern House, Nixon and other members of the board said The Road Home has adopted some of the Ogden facility’s rules, specifically requiring everyone entering the shelter to have identification and requiring them to prove they are not drunk or on drugs.
“We have done better or more than what The Road Home has done,” Nixon said. “Not to put them down. They were inundated. They don’t have a brand new $9 million facility with security measures “
Allowing anyone to come to the shelter is another differentiating factor, Nixon said.
“They created their own problem by being so humanitarian and taking in anyone and everybody,” Nixon said.
“They are doing everything down there now that we have been doing for years,” Nixon said, referring to ID and sobriety rules.
Executive Director of The Road Home, Matt Minkevitch, said he can’t speak to whether or not The Road Home has adopted any policies based on Squire’s tour in Ogden. He was not sure what changes to which Nixon would have been referring.
He didn’t exactly confirm Nixon’s assessments, either. Minkevitch referred to instances where The Road Home staff knew a person and let stay while working toward state identification. He said staff members sometimes judge a person’s behavior, rather than a brethalyzer, to determine if they would put others at risk.
Minkevich also pointed to many successes The Road Home has experienced with a shelter program that houses up to 700 people a night and a housing program that now keeps 1,400 people in homes.
The Lantern House has about 300 beds.
Story continues below photo.
Weber County Commissioner James Ebert said he has received positive feedback from Squires about the Ogden shelter, including the rules enforced there.
The strict rules were born out of a transition that started before Lantern House moved to its new building two years ago, Ebert said.
“Some people want to work toward recovery and some don’t,” he said. “Sometimes those populations are in competition with each other.”
Nixon said the rules for holding a valid ID and sobriety were enforced at the former St. Anne’s Center, the precurser to the Lantern House, but the shelter had no diversion area.
One reason for Squires’ tour, Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said, was to ensure drug problems facing The Road Home in Salt Lake don’t come to Ogden. Caldwell said he’s not too worried, given Lantern House’s reputation for running a tight ship.
In addition to efforts by Lantern House, Ogden police are working to quell drug problems in the area by patrolling and enforcing the law, Ogden Police Department spokeswoman Capt. Danielle Croyle said.
At press time, Lantern House officials were unable to find a former client who would sign a waiver and speak with the Standard-Examiner about how the shelter’s strict rules helped him or her escape homelessness.