Homelessness has been a serious and growing issue in the Salt Lake Valley for many years. Up until the last few years, though, their population was primarily subjugated to a few blocks downtown. Now, as their population increases and police disperse their concentration from the Rio Grande area in SLC, they are being seen everywhere across this valley in greater numbers than ever before. Most residents aren’t fans of this development, but proposed solutions are equally despised.
The county has been seeking sites for proposed homeless shelters across the valley for quite some time, but has faced serious opposition from constituent voters in the available cities. Recently, Mayor Troy Walker was forced to rescind his offer of placing a homeless shelter in Draper, when voters began yelling and threatening impeachment at him during a recent public gathering in Draper. Walker is quoted as saying “I get it now,” minutes before leaving the gathering.
This is similar opposition to what has been seen across the board at each proposed site for new homeless shelters, that are evidently badly needed in the valley.
Walking downtown used to be an entirely different experience. Sure, the Rio Grande area was always rife with homeless laying on the lawns and parks, or crowded around the one shelter there, but the rest of the city remained relatively untouched, save for some panhandlers here and there. Rio Grande could get surprisingly sketchy at night, for UT standards, with people constantly offering you drugs of all kinds as you walked by. Since the police have started dispersing the homeless concentration there, the affected people have been filtered throughout the streets of downtown, and like a ripple in a pond, the homeless population has spread across the valley in greater numbers.
Before, you would primarily see homeless panhandling at freeway on/off-ramps outside of downtown. Recently, you now see them on many street corners, as far as 700 east, and as far South as Sandy. Residents are aware of the growing issue, which some have thought was largely responsible for The Gateway Mall’s steady spiral into oblivion, but very few Utah residents seem keen to have a homeless shelter or facilities placed in their own city.
Recently, four homeless facilities were announced:
- 653 E. Simpson Ave (near 2300 South)
- 275 W. High Ave (approximately 1400 South)
- 131 E. 700 South
- 648 W. 100 South
Each is supposed to “house” rather than “shelter” 150 people. Supposedly, queueing will not be allowed outside, and meals will only be served to people staying at the facilities. One of facilities will be woman-only, and one will be directed at young, at-risk youth. Although residents in the effected neighborhoods are very concerned, especially business owners (perhaps rightly so), the plans for these facilities seem well laid so far, making good use of available infrastructure, such as public transit.
The fact of the matter is that these facilities are extremely important for assisting the homeless in getting back on their feet, and more importantly, staying alive, especially with the approaching winter. It seems like many people overlook the fact that the homeless population is not entirely comprised of vagrants and drug addicts, in fact, a large population of homeless people are closer to being “in between” homes, through bad luck or poor planning. Without shelters and the resources they provide, many of them would be unable to get back on their feet and back into housing, and many more start a downward spiral, ceasing to be productive members of society.
Ouwrites.org is currently seeking commentary on the homelessness issue in the Salt Lake Valley from elected officials.