A visit to Switchpoint

September 3, 2014

In a recent trip to St. George, I was invited to tour Switchpoint: a new facility in the area that provides temporary shelter and support for the homeless community in Washington county.  I was joined by St. George City Councilmembers Bette Arial, Michele Randall, and Jimmy Hughes; Mayor John Pike; and City Manager Gary Esplin.  Carol Hollowell is the director of Switchpoint, and she led the tour.

Last November, I delivered a speech about reducing poverty entitled, Bring Them In.  In this passage from the speech I highlighted one of the principles for reducing poverty that is often forgotten in policy debates:

We usually refer to the free market and civil society as “institutions.” But really, they are networks of people and information and opportunity. What makes these networks uniquely powerful is that they impel everyone – regardless of race, religion, or wealth - to depend not simply on themselves or the government, but on each other. For all America’s reputation for individualism and competition, our nation has from the beginning been built on a foundation of community and cooperation.

In a free market economy and voluntary civil society, no matter your career or your cause, your success depends on your service. The only way to get ahead is to help others do the same. The only way to look out for yourself is to look out for your neighbors. 

As I toured Switchpoint, I was convinced that their model that relies primarily on the institutions of civil society is a model that policies that are intended to reduce poverty need to follow.  The institutions of government had a small role to play in helping Switchpoint secure their building.  One of their innovations of the facility is to designate an area where 17 non-profit partners and local government agencies can be available to those who visit the facility.  The bulk of the effort that is utilized to run this facility is provided by volunteers.  Local organizations of contractors and local businesses donated materials and labor for renovating and modernizing the facility.  Another group donated computers that can be used by those who visit the facility to search for work, fill out forms and paper work, participate in job training programs, and develop new skills. Religious groups donated crucial resources and volunteers as well.

switchpoint rooms

Donated Materials and Bedroom Furniture

Computer kiosks

Computer Kiosks for Donated Computers

Aside from this community assistance, much of the operation of the facility will depend on the volunteer work of those who are receiving its services.  While I was touring the kitchen, a woman who was receiving assistance from Switchpoint was helping maintain the kitchen and preparing lunch.

Switchpoint kitchen

Learning About Kitchen Volunteer Program

I was certainly impressed by Switchpoint's innovative approach to making poverty more temporary, but I was not surprised to see this innovation coming from from my fellow Utahns.  This is why as part of my Conservative Reform Agenda, my proposals that are designed to provide opportunity and upward mobility to those who are struggling focus primarily on shifting power from Washington DC to the states, local governments, and local communities that can truly make a difference to those they serve. 

Americans need a new, comprehensive anti-poverty agenda that not only corrects – but transcends – existing policies, and I believe Switchpoint is an organization that proves we can meet this challenge.