Shelters for the homeless are often dangerous, depressing and humiliating places. Such facilities are increasing in number but are not keeping people off the streets, a non-profit organization for the homeless says.
Homeless Organization for People Everywhere, a group run by and operated for homeless people, made this claim in a letter to Utah Attorney General David L. Wilkinson, a copy of which was released to the Deseret News."We would like to know if the residents of shelters are protected by Utah landlord-tenant laws? If not, why not? Is there a void in the regulations that govern these types of institutions? Is legislation such as a homeless bill of rights needed to protect homeless people?" the group's board asked.
"As you must be aware, the problem of homelessness is developing into a national crisis. No one is more aware of the problems associated with homelessness than those of us who live day to day on the street with no hope of real opportunities. We have been told by Job Service representatives that there (sic) records show more than 40,000 people in Utah who are unemployed. In the 1,500. . .population of homeless people in the Salt Lake area we have a 100 percent unemployment rate, and most of us have been unemployed for so long that our numbers are not reflected in the records because we are no longer drawing unemployment benefits," the group said.
The letter says many homeless people worked at construction and heavy industrial trades, but no jobs are available in those areas.
Also, the group called attention to the growth of construction projects for the homeless, less than half of whom stay in the shelters.
"There are many new shelters around the state and several in Salt Lake City. One $7 million shelter in the city is still under construction and plans have been made for a second that will cost several hundred thousand dollars. Yet, with all this new construction, only a small portion of the homeless population will be served . . .," the letter says.
The problem of injuries and abuse was cited.
Wilkinson was told that it is not unusual for a homeless person to be mistreated or injured, sometimes by another transient, but often at the hands of a shelter staff member.
"We have had many complaints about most of the shelters. At one privately run shelter the shelter staff found one person smoking in the restroom and evicted the entire population at 2 a.m. in the middle of winter," the group said.
An apology was given for contacting Wilkinson, "but there is no place we can go for legal advice or protection."