Guest opinion: Building dreams in The Other Side Village

Emma came within hours of being evicted from a decrepit, cockroach-infested apartment and into the streets. A mood disorder and years of bad choices had landed her in a dismal life of alcohol, drugs, unemployment, and an ever-shifting circle of equally troubled outcasts. It was heartbreaking to watch her deteriorate from a self-sufficient, intelligent and witty young woman with a gleaming smile into the sickly, self-destructive shell she had become. She had fallen into the hell of hopelessness and couldn’t see a way out.

But she was rescued at the last moment when the caring people at a non-profit advocate for the homeless issued her an emergency housing voucher to stay in a motel. It was an old, worn-out building, occupied mainly by rootless, transient souls struggling to live day-to-day. Police cars were a regular sight as they responded to loud, drug-fueled arguments and suspicious trespassers. Unknown drunks banged on Emma’s door at all hours. She was deeply grateful for the room, but she still didn’t feel safe. It’s also hard to stay clean with others using drugs all around.

Another compassionate non-profit, The Other Side Village, is committed to providing safe, long-term housing and other life-changing opportunities for people like Emma in a sober-living environment. The Village will serve unsheltered citizens who have been derailed by life’s unexpected traumas such as the loss of a job, a chronic and debilitating medical condition or disease, among other devastating circumstances. They are people who have been chronically homeless. They are people with treatable mental health challenges and addictions who can’t afford the medicine or therapy to overcome them. Most importantly, they are people who have demonstrated the desire and capability to become self-sustaining.  

But, so far, The Other Side Village consists of a vision, a master plan and an empty field in West Salt Lake City. Eventually, the Village will be home to up to 500 residents living in 350-400 square foot homes with a bedroom, living room, bathroom with a shower and a kitchen with all the appliances. 

A host of committed partners such as volunteer architects and builders have already designed the community and are standing by to bring it to life. A coalition of medical and mental health services providers have signed on to support the residents. The City of Salt Lake is also a partner.

Residents will be able to remain in their homes for the long-term because building dreams takes time. Healing takes time. So the Village will not be a quick stop for transients. Instead, residents will have the security of safe housing while giving them time to develop job skills and find inspiration and comfort in belonging to a secure, beautiful community of peers and onsite management professionals. Among other amenities, a community center will host cultural events to enrich the west side for all residents, both inside and outside the Village. Residents will be expected to do their part to help maintain, clean and beautify the community. They will also be required to pay rent as their ability to pay increases. There will also be onsite employment available to all residents.

Will The Other Side Village be successful? The visionaries behind The Other Side Village are not new at helping to raise up the poor to become productive citizens. They also founded The Other Side Academy, a highly praised residential program in Salt Lake City that opened its doors in 2015. The Academy takes repeat offenders – men and women – out of the criminal corrections system and helps them learn life skills and trades. The students run Academy-sponsored businesses so that it doesn’t need any government funds to operate.

How will The Other Side Village be funded? Much of the startup costs are being covered by foundations, corporations and private citizens. But more is needed. The Utah State Legislature is in session and is, at this time, considering a budget request from The Other Side Village for capital expenses so it can break ground this year. The Other Side Village will cover its ongoing operational costs from the social enterprise revenues, just as it has done with the Academy, so they will not require ongoing funding to cover operations. We welcome anyone who believes in the mission of The Other Side Village to contact your legislators as soon as you can to let them know you support the funding request. 

Your support will help The Other Side Village throw a lifeline to people like Emma, whose only chance at a good life might depend on its existence.  

Larry Alan Brown is a volunteer Communication Specialist at The Other Side Village.