Abandoned, boarded-up houses are a source of particular frustration to homeless people in Salt Lake. In a forum Wednesday, several homeless men said they have the skills and would like to have the opportunity to fix the houses and live in them.
"There are a lot of boarded-up houses," said Tom Anthony. "We've got guys with the skills and know-how to rebuild them. Why won't they let us? I'm not looking for a hand up, I'm looking for a hand out. Let us do it. Charge us, but let us do what has to be done to these houses so we can have a home."Laura Landikusic, housing planner for Salt Lake City, agreed that about 350 houses in the city have been boarded up, but the city can't do anything about using them to house homeless people. The houses, she said, don't belong to the city but to private owners.
The "homeless forum" was sponsored by the Homeless Organization for People Everywhere, and state and Salt Lake County homeless coordinating committees. About 150 homeless individuals, including schoolchildren, went to St. Vincent De Paul Center's cafeteria to air grievances and offer suggestions to representatives from homeless service providers, the Health Department, Human Services, shelter staff and other officials.
"We're going to try to take action on whatever recommendations you make that we can," said Steve Erickson, from the county coordinating committee. "We're not a powerful lobby; we're outgunned and outnumbered on Capitol Hill when it comes to trying to get resources, but we're going to try."
Phillip Wesley Haddon complained that people can't get help before they become disabled - or on the street. He, his wife and five children were impoverished by a daughter's heart condition. Instead of finding help, he was told, "We can't help you." Instead, he said, people must "sell your children's bikes, your wedding rings, everything you've worked hard for."
Homeless people also are stigmatized, he said. Because he's large, has a beard and tattoos, people think he must be a drug addict. "Well guess what? I'm not."
They also complained about discrimination against the homeless in hiring practices. "Once we're down, we're kind of held that way," said Terry Ferguson. "Employers say he's on the streets. He doesn't deserve to make more than the minimum (wage). We're quite skilled. But a lot of people don't know that."
Paul Brooks said Utah needs an employment program like Seattle's Millionair Club, which hires homeless people for at least four hours at a time with a guaranteed minimum wage of $5.
Calling this shelter "one of the best in the country," Brooks also questioned why special beds are put up but taken down again if the temperature doesn't reach freezing. "It's hard to work if you're sleeping outdoors," he said.
A critical need, according to the homeless individuals who attended the forum, is for sanitary facilities available to people who can't get into the shelter because it's full. While there are public toilets in Pioneer Park, "it's been about three weeks since they've been cleaned out. I won't use one."
He said the shelter is supposed to serve homeless people in general and asked that officials "consider having a public toilet with street access and a shower.