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Christian Center tidies up after a record season

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

Between Park City’s Christian Center and its Thrift Shoppe, lie the remains of one of the center’s most challenging winter seasons to date: stacked mattresses, winter wear, and chairs items returned and items donated from the scores of international student workers before the trip home. The resorts are closed, but even during the last gasps of April, some are still returning the leftovers of their short stay in Park City, according to the center’s management.

Many of the items are being housed in nearby storage for next season, while the rest will be wrapped and sent in a caravan headed on a mission to Utah’s San Juan County Navajo Reservation this Thursday.

"A lot of this stuff will go down to the reservation along with about 7,000 pounds of food from the Utah Food Bank but we have a lot of excess items and what we can’t keep here, we try to donate to the Catholic Thrift Shop in Heber," explains David Johnson who runs the Thrift Shoppe with his wife, Traci.

In this, its first season, the Thrift Shoppe had little trouble meeting the furniture and clothing needs for the community, Traci Johnson says. The real issue was housing.

Beneath the headline "Season Five Sets New Records" the Christian Center’s Newsletter describes a winter of couch-surfing and jam-packed Tuesday night dinners, a weekly event the center offers international students from January through March. The second weekly dinner hit a new record, the article reports, with 250 students in attendance.

The article also describes the center as a "house-hunting hub" with an average of 15 to 30 students looking for housing each day.

The Johnsons invited two Argentinean students to stay at their home for the season, as well as 17 others to stay a few nights as they found and helped to contract with the Wingpoint apartment complex in Heber City to house 60 students, according to Traci Johnson.

Next year, Johnson doubts she will encourage students to live in Heber, however. There were too many students who needed rides back home after Tuesday dinners and not enough transportation options available, she says. Deer Valley supplied a shuttle to drop off and pick up workers for their resort, she admits, but it wasn’t enough.

"When kids had second jobs, they ended up buying used cars that didn’t work well in the snow, and it really wasn’t safe. The cars would break down on them," she said.

Christian Center Director Tim Dahlin hosted a discussion concerning housing on Thursday. Park City Mayor Dana Williams, Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott Mountainlands Community Housing Trust Executive Director Scott Loomis, and Deer Valley Resort Vice President Bob Wells, were among the 15 in attendance

"The meeting was scheduled for an hour, but it ended up being two hours, which I think is a good sign," Dahlin said.

One suggestion that emerged was to create an incentive-based program, in which resorts whose workers were staying with families would give host families passes to their resort. The family would still benefit from rent, but they would also receive an added enticement.

Everyone at the meeting agreed that seasonal housing is a problem, Dahlin reports, and that it’s getting worse as more and more inventory is getting removed.

The housing issue, in part, is due to the fact that many apartment complexes have turned to nightly and weekly rentals, leaving fewer and fewer places for students to stay.

"The problem is really less that it’s affordable, and more that there’s just not housing for them when they arrive these kids can afford it," Dahlin noted.

Compounding the problem, he adds, is the fact that "most property owners want year leases and many homeowners don’t want international students."

Dahlin thanked hotels like The Radisson and Kimball Junction’s Best Western who lowered room rates to create a place for students to stay while they looked for housing. Some local hotels charged students as little as $30 a night to accommodate the demand, he said. He notes that since Main Street’s Base Camp hostel closed, there really isn’t anywhere students can go while they look for places to stay.

Resorts might have to hire locally, he suggests.

"When I talked to Park City Mountain Resort earlier this year, they said that in recent years, they went from needing about 200 to 300 workers to 800 to 1,000 workers," he said, adding that unless they resolve the housing issue, the resorts may have to raise their wages for resort workers to attract local residents.

The city is focused on affordable housing, but for year-round residents and not seasonal workers, Dahlin observes.

"Nobody’s really thinking about seasonal problems, thinking it will sort itself out," he said, "But they’re not here when we have 30-40 kids here every night standing in the back room trying to figure out where they’re going to go for the night — that happens mostly throughout the month of November each year, but this year that happened through December."

Though the meeting was long, at the conclusion of the center’s affordable housing discussion, Dahlin admitted they had come up with very few answers. Until then, the Christian Center will need to serve as a "one stop shop" for international students, arriving at their doorstep on Iron Horse Drive, with little more than a suitcase.

"I wish we could say that we came out of the meeting with a rock-solid plan to solve the seasonal housing problem, but we didn’t," he explained. "We really don’t have anything we can do for this year in terms of the 2006-2007 ski season."

Dahlin reports the group agreed to meet again in the next month.


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