OGDEN -- After five years of dealing with continuing winter emergency needs of the poor and homeless, this year's annual Safety Net Summit actually heard some good news.
For one, the food bank in Weber County is doing well.
It still needs more food, however. The Utah Food Bank has cut back deliveries by 240,000 pounds of federal surplus. Food suppliers are donating a lot less canned food and more fresh food, creating storage problems.
But executive director Marcie Valdez said the $45,000 the summit directed her way last year was "absolutely incredible," enabling her to revamp her operation and make it more efficient and better organized, as well as bring in another 360,000 pounds of food.
Also good news, this year's winter doesn't look yet like a looming emergency.
Housing for homeless families is still a serious problem, but Fraser Nelson, executive director of the Community Foundation of Utah, said Top of Utah agencies have made so much progress coordinating with each other to meet immediate needs that it is time to do more than just put out fires.
United Way of Northern Utah convened the first Safety Net Summit in 2008 to deal with the crashing economy and the national housing market disaster.
All agencies in Top of Utah were facing overwhelming demands for help. That first summit helped focus needs and resources on the most immediate challenges: family shelter beds, food and helping people keep from being evicted.
This year's summit, held Thursday, didn't ignore those needs, but focused more on health and education.
People lose their homes because they don't earn enough money, the summit members agreed, and they don't get paid enough because they can't get good jobs.
Randy Hopkins, Utah Workforce Services economic service area director, said a comparison of education levels and earnings between Davis and Weber counties tells you everything you need to know.
The level of average educational attainment in Davis County is 10 percent higher than in Weber, he said, and the average income in Davis is 10 percent higher.
"These kids have got to get the message, you have got to graduate from high school or you are not going to get a job," he said, adding that most people will need post-secondary training as well.
That overall lower educational level is keeping Weber County's unemployment rate higher than it ought to be. Automation is destroying jobs that just a high school graduate can handle, he said, and Workforce Services has trouble filling high-tech jobs.
Reform has to start by keeping children in school at all ages, he said.
"We need to create a pipeline of services from birth to college," integrated with efforts to help parents of children keep their jobs so their kids can stay in school, Hopkins added.
Judy Kasten-Bell, executive director of the Weber-Davis Boys and Girls Club, said her agency gets daily calls from parents who need help keeping their children in school.
"I like to tell the story about one young girl who said she was glad she could get her homework done at the Boys and Girls Club because when she got home she had to watch her younger brothers and sisters so her parents could go to work," she said.
Community Action Agency Director Don Carpenter said his biggest challenge is finding a way for parents whose children would benefit from his Head Start preschool to get into the program.
He had to eliminate his bus program to pick up children because of costs, he said, so now his program serves 700 children in Weber and Davis, but not those who need it most.
"People who really need our service are not connecting with our service and benefits," he said.
The group of agencies agreed that United Way needs to direct more funds at programs to help keep children in school, but identified several other areas that also need attention:
* St. Anne's Shelter still has a family housing crisis. An emergency shelter set up last year closed in June, so Executive Director Jeannie Cantor said she is, once again, sleeping families on the floor of her kitchen at night.
Construction of a new, much expanded shelter is scheduled to begin this fall, with completion late next year, she said. Meanwhile, she's got families sleeping in cars in her parking lot again.
* Midtown Community Health Center Director Lisa Nichols said she needs help expanding the hours of its urgent care clinic because people who use it "don't have lives where they can tell their employer they need to take an hour off. They just don't have those kinds of jobs."