In early October, NCL presented Linda Hilton, advocacy director of Salt Lake City’s Crossroads Urban Center, our Florence Kelley award. This recognition is reserved for an advocate working outside of Washington DC – often an unsung hero doing heroic work – like advocating for low-income consumers against payday lenders or check cashing operations, fighting sub-prime lending, or exorbitant college loans.
I had occasion to visit Linda in Salt Lake City several weeks after she received our award and observed, first hand, how deserving a recipient she was. Like Florence Kelley, Hilton is indefatigable on behalf of the working class and poor in her native Salt Lake City.
The Crossroads Center is located on the outskirts of downtown Salt Lake City. The Saturday afternoon of my visit a homeless man was asleep in front of the Center. Linda leaned over and asked him by name if everything was okay. About 30 percent of Crossroads’ clients are homeless; that number includes hundreds of homeless families. The man camping out on the lawn of the Center nodded yes. She and I walked inside and she showed me around.
The Center provides vital services to low and middle-income Salt Lake residents. It operates 9-5, Monday –Friday, which in itself is unusual. Linda told me that often when it opens on Monday morning, a line of people are waiting outside – many of them are lined up simply to use a bathroom because they have no other access to toilets or water and sinks for washing. The Center’s staff are also able to cut through the red tape for the clients, a critical resource for anyone trying to get government benefits.
For example, someone entitled to Food Stamps but whose benefits have gotten cancelled or whose paperwork is missing can get same day emergency access to food because Crossroads professional staff has the contacts and knows who to call. The Center provides vouchers for gas for the working poor, many of whom may have jobs but don’t make enough on minimum wage jobs to fill their gas tanks. Bus passes are also distributed so people can get to doctor’s appoints, apply for services and get to work.
Crossroads Center also has a robust network of doctors and even dentists – dental care is especially hard access for low-income families – who are willing to provide free medical and dental services for Crossroad’s clients.
Finally, I got a close look at supplies in the food pantry. Cans of Bumble Bee tuna, Skippy Peanut Butter, canned chicken and beef chili lined the walls, along with bags of lentils and black beans, crackers and chips. Also, boxes of toothbrushes and toothpaste, along with hotel size bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, were stacked at the Food Bank. I stay in hotels a lot for work and often leave the cosmetics behind. But now I’ve started a collection which I’ll donate to our local homeless drop in center near my home in DC.
Linda showed me the chart they use – if you are a family of three the food pantry has a set list of what you need to eat for several days; if you’re a family of ten, that list is a lot longer. On another whiteboard was NC – for the homeless or others who have no way to cook. They get canned and other food that doesn’t need to be heated up.
Finally, Linda also leads the Coalition for Religious Communities, which does advocacy work on behalf of the very people Crossroads serves. Her critical work in advocating for the reduction reducing sales tax on food in the state of Utah and fighting payday lenders is directly influenced by her day-to-day connections with Crossroads’ clients. She tells the stories much better than I can. (Read what she had to say about her work in her remarks here.) I couldn’t be more proud that Linda Hilton accepted the Florence Kelley award and that NCL gave her the much deserved recognition for her remarkable advocacy on behalf of Utah’s most needy.