210 Rio Grande: The epicenter for Utah's homeless

Published: Monday, Oct. 15 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

Sterling, Theresa and Darren Williams discuss their options on how to get to Taylorsville to look at an apartment at The Road Home in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 11, 2012. The Willamses have been homeless for nearly a year. Valory Sargeant, 10, hugs her mother, Michelle Chatelain, upon returning to the shelter after a school day. Chatelain and her two children have been staying at the shelter for a few months. They have been approved for Section 8 housing assistance. They are waiting for an apartment to become available.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Theresa Williams sits on a sidewalk next to the entrance of the Road Home in Salt Lake City with most of her family's worldly belongings.

All that they own fits into four plastic bins wrapped in masking tape with "Williams" scrawled on top, and in a red wagon, which allows the family of four to stay mobile.

Using a compact mirror and a zippered bag of cosmetics, she applies eyeliner and mascara.

"I never in my life thought I would be staying at a shelter," she says, as she finishes applying her makeup.

"Just because I'm homeless doesn't mean I need to look 'homelessly,' " she says as she shows off the leather jacket she bought at a local Deseret Industries with a spin on the sidewalk. "I'm looking pretty classy for 210 Rio Grande."

Where Rio Grande Street meets 200 South is a sort of epicenter for the city's homeless.

With the Saint Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen on one side and Road Home shelter on the other, even those who haven't landed a spot 210 Rio Grande find themselves congregating near its doors.

More than 80 percent of the state's homeless live along the Wasatch Front, according to a 2011 state report. Many land here at some time or another to find shelter, sustenance or a listening ear.

The people, their stories and situations vary, but all spoke on a recent weekday of the that brought them here and of the hope that those circumstances will change. 

Williams family

Theresa Williams is joined by her 15-year-old son, Sterling, who stays with a friend and attends school in West Valley City during the week and visits his parents each Friday. Eleven-year-old Skyler is at school.

Husband Darren Williams rummages through the pile searching for a shirt suitable to wear to an appointment that afternoon to look at an apartment.

"I have a really good feeling about it, too, you guys," Theresa says of the three-bedroom listing in Taylorsville.

The family has been out of a permanent place for nearly a year, since last November. Before that, they had been living in the same apartment for nine years. The owner decided to sell and gave everyone two months notice.

"We didn't have any money saved and I did not see it coming," Theresa Williams explains. 

The family's bishop provided the funds to keep the family in a motel for four months, but they've been going back and forth between the Road Home shelters in Salt Lake City and Midvale since then. Darren Williams said he has picked up random jobs here and there, but has not found steady work.

The family also lost its truck when the parking tickets stacked up trying to keep ahead of downtown's parking restrictions and it was impounded. Darren said they couldn't come up with the $200 to get it back.

"I get a little more and more depressed each day," he says.

"You can't get depressed," Theresa cuts in.

She admits she sometimes blames their situation on her husband "for not jumping to the podium and getting a job." They worry about their children, especially in the hours between the time Skyler gets out of school and when they're allowed back into the shelter at night.

"We don't know what to do with ourselves," Darren says. "Rain, snow, whatever, you're out that door."

Most days, they take Skyler to the library or to The Gateway shopping center. Theresa acknowledges that as much as she doesn't want to go to a shelter, her needs are the last of her worries.

"My kids — I feel bad for them because they're just kids," she says.

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