In 2015, 8,282 adults without children utilized Utah’s homeless services (excluding domestic violence shelters). Even more shocking, in 2015, 4,832 children and their parents also needed and used homeless services in Utah. In January of 2016 in Utah, there were 979 children and their parents who were homeless. The Midvale Family Homeless Shelter is full, and the Road Home is still home to children. The Road Home is also home to about 80 registered sexual predators.
In addition to homeless families, there were 1,810 homeless adults in Utah in January. Even sadder, 64 homeless have died this year, and only 29 had some form of housing. Last year, 92 died while 52 had some housing at the end of their lives. These numbers are real people. Many who died are grandmothers and grandfathers. Often, the homeless who die won’t have family notified or even receive a definite reason for their death. Salt Lake City is way past an emergency. This is a sad commentary on our city.
When we come into Salt Lake City in the morning, we see the bodies of the homeless sleeping in the parks and nooks and crannies in downtown buildings. As winter approaches, some of those bodies will be dead. A few weeks ago, a homeless man’s body was found at the Gallivan Center. When we go on 400 South and look north at 500 West, we see a sea of tents of the homeless along with piles of their personal possessions.
Recently downtown, I saw a woman in a broken wheelchair pushing a shopping cart full of her possessions. On another day, I saw a couple pushing two carts with personal possessions that included a cat in a cage. This is what the visitors, residents and businesses of Salt Lake City see when they are in Salt Lake City. It is a sad commentary on Salt Lake City.
The multiplying and increasingly visible homeless issue is a problem nationally. Salt Lake City is better at providing charity and care to the homeless than most other cities in the nation. The LDS Church, the Catholic Church and many other churches provide a lot of help, including shelter and food. But the homeless shouldn’t have to wheel their possessions around in a desperate attempt to keep a semblance of normalcy and civilization.
Last year, Salt Lake City opened a storage facility that the homeless could use. It only operates during the day, and it is now full. The homeless need a 24-hour accessible and secure storage. An indoor facility is also needed to encourage those who are camping in the city to get indoors where they can develop a stable relationship with and be helped by caseworkers.
Affordable housing solutions will take years to develop. It will also take two or more years to build new homeless shelters. We also need a recovery center that can take in those who may need respite care after hospitalization. We especially need many more caseworkers so that the homeless don’t end up begging for housing and handouts from the reporters who try to shine the light on this issue. The Salt Lake City Council should be encouraged to provide solutions now and not in three years.
Six years ago, on Thanksgiving Eve, a homeless man was killed on 400 South while pushing his belongings in a shopping cart. The Deseret News published a letter that expressed my concern about the homeless. I wrote that it was a sad commentary on our society. It is worse now. This Thanksgiving, please remember the homeless and consider giving to the Road Home or LDS Church or the Weigand Center or St. Vincent DePaul Center or other homeless service providers. I know that there are a lot of people who care in Utah. It shouldn’t be a sad commentary on our city and our society.
On Dec. 13 at Pioneer Park at 6 p.m., there will be a candlelight vigil for those nameless, neglected, forgotten and homeless who have died.
George Chapman is a former candidate for Salt Lake City mayor.