Dateline: Saint George— A Bridge To A Brighter Future
When you’re homeless, it’s like swimming in molasses. Fortunately, many homeless in southwest Utah are finding their footing thanks to Switchpoint and Carol Hollowell, its founder and CEO.
Carol Hollowell owns a warm smile and a get-‘er-done determination.
A successful businesswoman, Carol had a street-corner epiphany in St. George seven years ago. She spotted a disheveled man in a wheelchair, bought him coffee, heard his story and helped him secure identification that ended years of homelessness and helplessness.
That prompted her to open a homeless resource center in 2014. She has since added a soup kitchen, community garden, food pantry, rapid rehousing program and a substance-use-disorder residential treatment center.
Her clients help run micro-businesses including a thrift store, boutique, and doggie daycare. In 2020, she opened a 55-unit housing complex and, in fall 2021, will open an around-the-clock child-care center called Steppingstones.
She called her non-profit Switchpoint– named after a switch that takes trains in a different direction.
Her philosophy? “If I provide opportunities, will you step up to the plate? This isn’t about getting everything for free. It’s about value and self-worth and stepping up.”
For example, rent in Switchpoint’s Riverwalk Village depends on what you can afford– the more you earn, the more you pay. But you don’t get booted just because you’re financially stabilizing your life.
The homeless – or “unhoused” or “residentially insecure”– know the reality of Utah’s housing crisis. Even with each person working two full-time, low-paying jobs, a couple can’t find a rental. Add a couple of kids, disability– and you’re living in a battered car and bathing in restrooms.
Full disclosure: My wife and I are Switchpoint donors. I’ve grappled with homeless issues in Fresno, California, as a reporter and serving on a homeless commission.
Carol is a do-gooder who pencils things out. Her community collaborators and volunteers are many. Three-quarters of Switchpoint’s funding comes from private donors and profits from its micro-businesses. In Carol’s words: “The farther away we get from government dollars and regulations, the better we get.”
She sometimes asks clients a deceptively simple question: When were the happiest parts of your life and how do we get you back there?
Next, Switchpoint finds the most qualified staff member to be the client’s advocate, identifying the barriers and working to remove them.
Carol’s efforts have drawn state and national recognition. She’s partnered with advocates in Salt Lake City and Tooele. When she’s feeling tense, she leans on a Jimmy Buffett song, a tribute to survivors of Hurricane Katrina– “Breathe in, breathe out, move on.”