Philanthropy: First Step House

For this issue’s special section, we asked philanthropic organizations from around our state to share their missions, success stories and plans for the coming year. We know our readers are generous and community-minded individuals. By sharing good works, we hope you’ll learn about a wide range of opportunities to get involved and help fulfill our partners’ missions.


SERVING THE WHOLE PERSON: FIRST STEP HOUSE

You might have heard a little bit about First Step House, the treatment provider for those experiencing homelessness or battling addiction. But what exactly does the nonprofit do?

A bit of everything, First Step House’s Development Director Mary T. Calhoon, explains.

“We have a continuum of treatment, housing, and built-in supportive services to help men and women who are experiencing some of the most significant struggles a person can have,” Calhoon said.

First Step House was founded in 1958 to provide shelter and rehabilitation to Utahns struggling with addiction. Since then, First Step House has helped many thousands of people in the Salt Lake Valley build lives of meaning, purpose, and recovery. The nonprofit has steadily evolved to meet the changing needs of the community, fulfilling a commitment to serve those who would otherwise get left behind. 

One of the biggest life-saving services offered by First Step House is safe and supportive housing.

All of us have felt the pressure of rising housing and living costs over the past decade. For some Utahns without a safety net, rising costs have led to disastrous outcomes: loss of housing, and a spiral into homelessness that is difficult to climb out of. With a growing portfolio of deeply affordable housing, First Step House seeks to interrupt that cycle.

Housing needs look different for First Step House clients at different stages of rehabilitation and recovery. Many come to treatment directly from incarceration or an untenable living situation, like couch-surfing; when they graduate, they may need to stay in a sober residence for a few months while attending outpatient treatment. They’ll work with a case manager and participate in an employment program as they prepare to move into housing on their own. Others, with diagnoses of serious mental illness or experiences of chronic homelessness, may need a supportive housing arrangement that’s permanent.

In 2019, First Step House opened Central City Apartments downtown, creating 75 supportive apartments—permanent homes—for people with long histories of being homeless. The following year, they opened 40 more apartments next door at Medina Place. In 2024, the freshly renovated Stratford Apartments will add another 46 units – and more buildings are already in development. This pivot to housing was a natural step for the nonprofit, explained Executive Director Shawn McMillen.

“We had decades of experience as a behavioral healthcare provider. We had developed a whole suite of wraparound services: case management, employment, medical care, and long-term recovery support. It made sense to build housing that incorporates treatment and services,” McMillen said.

This housing helps meet a crucial need in our region, where chronic homelessness has risen sharply in recent years.

First Step House aims to treat the whole person, taking an individualized approach to address barriers in all areas of life: from health to relationships to finances. 

“Our goal is to work alongside our clients as they build a more stable foundation, so they can recover and thrive,” Calhoon said. “We see them overcome obstacles, persist in recovery, and rebuild their lives and their families. Our clients amaze us.”

First Step house

SHAWN MCMILLEN | EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

440 S. 500 EAST, SALT LAKE CITY

(801) 359-8862 • FIRSTSTEPHOUSE.ORG

This February…

Join First Step House in celebrating a Month of Valor, a special campaign to end veteran homelessness. First Step House operates the only transitional housing in Salt Lake County for veterans experiencing homelessness. It’s called Valor House, and you’ll find it on the VA Medical Campus. Learn more and get involved with Valor Month at firststephouse.org/donate.

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