Meet Ray: The Man Who Inspired a “Switch Point”
Switch point: a mechanism on train tracks where, with a slight adjustment, the train can be re-routed to a new track, sending it in a completely new direction.
On her drive to work one cold, rainy morning, a man in a wheelchair caught Carol Hollowell’s eye. “Hey buddy,” she called to him, “Where ya headed?”
“To get a cup of coffee and warm up,” he shouted back.
“I’ll take you!” she said, pulling her truck over. Carol loaded the man and his wheelchair in and drove to the nearby Smith’s grocery store, where the two sat and sipped coffee together.
His name was Ray, she discovered, and he’d been homeless a long time. My wallet was stolen five years ago,” he told her, “And you can’t do anything without ID.”
Carol was astounded. “Surely a lost wallet could not be the reason this man had been unsheltered for five years,” she thought. But it was true. What seemed to be an easy fix—going to the DMV to get a new ID— was a barrier too big for Ray to overcome on his own.
Ray had become wheelchair-bound years earlier when he was injured in a fall from a two-story building he was helping construct. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury, which made certain mental tasks impossible for him to do. The DMV was twenty miles away. There was no bus service, and Ray couldn’t drive. On top of that, a person needs picture ID in order to get replacement ID, and Ray had none. Without an ID, he could not rent an apartment or even check in to a hotel, so he was living on the street. Ironically, Ray did have disability income, but he couldn’t access it.
Carol vowed to get Ray housed and set up with a valid ID that day. Dozens of phone calls, a whole lot of tearful pleading, and seven hours later, Ray had his vital documents in hand, and... he was settled into a permanent place. For the first time in years, Ray slept in his own bed that night.
Somewhere over the course of that day, Carol described feeling as if a switch flipped inside her. “I call it my ‘switch point,’” she said. The trajectory of Carol’s life did change that day, and since then, so has the trajectory of thousands of others’ lives.
My mission was born that day...
“My mission was born that day,” Carol explained, “and I could not...I would not turn a blind eye to the Rays of the world, and the broken system they’d been trapped in.” With a background in business innovation, Carol devoted her efforts to peeling back the layers to examine the root causes of homelessness and poverty to come up with innovative solutions to end it.
Carol’s experience with Ray was the catalyst that led her to develop Switchpoint Community Resource Center in 2014. Open 24/7, its mission is to meet the immediate needs of people experiencing poverty or homelessness—or both—but more importantly, to address its underlying causes, and empower people to restore their lives. Switchpoint is the go-to place in Southern Utah for those in distress. The center has an on-site food pantry, soup kitchen and emergency shelter. It also provides case management services, job training through its numerous Switchpoint Enterprises, and a variety of other services to help clients get back on their feet. One of the highest priorities of its mission is to keep people housed, and to that end, Switchpoint develops affordable, long-term housing. To-date, over 300 clients have become “residents” with a permanent place to live.
Switchpoint's Unique Model
Switchpoint has innovated ways to raise the money it needs to thrive and grow. In addition to grants, donations, corporations, foundations, and sponsors who understand this desperate need, Switchpoint pays for its own operations with the profits generated by its six enterprises. Volunteers also play a huge role in operations at Switchpoint. This past year alone, more than 2,175 volunteers from the surrounding community worked 37,530 hours at Switchpoint.
From its numerous services to how it pays the bills, Switchpoint has found creative ways to address the complex issues confronted by people experiencing poverty. Leaders across our state and across the country are taking notice of Switchpoint’s innovative model, and are duplicating it to address their own poverty and homelessness challenges.
Ms. Hollowell never intended to innovate solutions that others would emulate. “I had no idea I was creating this. I just knew we needed to feed and house people in crisis.”
Ray didn’t need much help, but when he got it, his hope was restored. At Switchpoint, clients can have hope, and with hope, anything is possible.
Just the Beginning
Since its inception in 2014, Switchpoint Community Resource Center (CRC) has been providing emergency food and shelter at its on-site food pantry, soup kitchen and shelter. And—to address the issues individuals caught in the cycle of poverty and homelessness face—the center offers housing assistance, case management, and job training at our Switchpoint Enterprises, which includes Switchpoint Thrift Store, Boutique, and Coffee Co, Bed ‘n’ Biscuits, Stepping Stones 24/7 Childcare, and Rise Garden. As the state recognizes the robustness of the Switchpoint model, it has begun expanding and now has facilities, services, and housing in Tooele and Salt Lake City.
“No one I've ever met wakes up one morning and decides, ‘I want to be homeless today.’ When something as simple as a stolen wallet has the power to create a life sentence of homelessness and poverty, something has to change.”