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Tax time is coming up and, among other things, that means Utahns can check a box and spend $3 to help service providers give treatment and find lodging for the state's estimated 13,500 homeless people.
Every dollar goes to homeless services through the Pamela Atkinson Trust Fund.
"This is a way to guarantee your money goes straight to the homeless," Atkinson said Thursday as she teamed up with Gov. Gary Herbert at the Fourth Street Clinic to promote the fund. "Every single dollar goes to changing and saving people's lives."
At a news conference, the governor demonstrated for reporters and photographers how to make such a contribution. The donation can be made on the TC 40 income tax form, part 4 on line O by writing in "code 02" and the amount.
Prior to the event, the governor spoke with four former homeless people who said they overcame tremendous obstacles, including addiction, through the Fourth Street Clinic and other services that are funded through the Pamela Atkinson Trust Fund.
Herbert looked pleased to see them, saying, "At the end of the day, it's all about outcomes."
Speaking to reporters, the governor called Atkinson "the Mother Teresa of Utah," and urged people to follow her example.
"It's important that we reach out to our brothers and sisters... We are all in this together," he said. "Your contributions will make such a difference in people's lives."
Last year, the fund distributed about $3 million to 32 agencies in Utah. Only about $60,000 of it came from tax-form contributions. But the private donations are important and can be matched by federal dollars.
The highest mark for such donations was about $300,000. The governor told news reporters that he wanted to increase awareness of the program.
Taxpayers can make contributions greater than $3, but if everyone chose to only donate $3 it would go a long way to solving homelessness here, the governor said.
Among the former homeless people Herbert talked with was Rachel Santizo, who became addicted to pain medication and eventually turned to heroin. That led to the state taking her children.
"Your self-worth spirals down and then you go to the street for heroin," she said. "That's when I lost my kids."
She found help at the Fourth Street Clinic, she told the governor, and has been sober for three years. Now, she sits on the clinic's Consumer Advisory Board.
Atkinson stressed the need for health care for homeless people. "This shows what happens when they get health care and begin to feel better and get jobs and pay it forward," she said. "I'm grateful for the fund and the people who contribute to it."
Kathy Bray, the CEO of Volunteers of America Utah, said the Pamela Atkinson Trust Fund provides critical funding for outreach and case management. It enables the VOA to identify homeless people and then guide them to services that will provide them with medical care and, eventually, housing.