Caring for Our Homeless Neighbors

Caring for our homeless neighbors is a moral imperative. Sure, it pays dividends—economic, social, public health, safety—but it is first and foremost something we do because it is the right thing to do.

Our grandparents had a time-tested approach to helping those who had fallen on hard times—one that worked really well when we knew everyone in our town and could give personal service. But as the US and Utah and Salt Lake City became more urban, we’ve had to find new ways to serve. And we’re still figuring out what a modern approach looks like…

On Rio Grande Street, for example, we’ve learned that concentrating services exposes our homeless neighbors to all sorts of abuse—at the hands of criminals, other people experiencing homelessness, and even at the hands of service providers just doing their best to help. The resulting crowds made caring for the women, children, and men who found themselves on Downtown’s streets even more difficult, and often delayed life-saving and life-changing services.

As Chair of the Downtown Community Council, I spent 13 years advocating for better service models and more accountability. I was also privileged to sit on various committees and commissions tasked with improving the system. As Mayor, I will build on that work.

Services where they’re Needed

Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County are in the middle of transitioning from a campus model of homeless services to a scattered site model. This is an effort to improve the lives of those experiencing homelessness while lightening the burden of neighborhoods which host resource centers.

I am committed to working with communities up and down the Wasatch to bring more and smaller resource centers online—bringing better services closer to those who need them. This will become easier as we choose to consolidate laundry, kitchen, and similar services for several locations to reduce costs and to allow for the creation of smaller resource centers.

A small percentage of people experiencing homelessness aren’t well served by our current resource centers. These “service resistant” individuals find themselves camping down by the river, up in the canyons, or in abandoned buildings. These camps pose health, safety, and fire risks to their occupants and the larger community. To care for these individuals, we need to offer resources to those who can’t or won’t come inside. Outdoor resource centers are the missing link in our new services model and will be a priority for my administration.

Caring for the Whole Person

Think about your home and how you use it. It’s not just for sleeping. It’s a 24-hour place for our 24-hour lives. Caring for our homeless neighbors means caring for the whole person and their 24-hour lives—and that’s true for clients of our emergency shelters as well as those living in transitional or longterm supportive housing.

What does whole person care look like?

Transit: Residents of the entire spectrum of shelter services should have access to free, premium transit passes. Free premium transit is necessary not only because it helps them to get to work or to classes, but because mobility independence is a human right—a vital aspect of human dignity.

Leisure & Socializing: We need to expand safe spaces for structured and unstructured leisure time and socializing. We also need to connect clients to the world of worthwhile activities in our communities.

Work: Many homeless service clients are employed and we need to ensure that we prioritize their continued employment. Of the clients not currently working, many are eager to find jobs. We need to expand re-employment efforts, including educational opportunities and job placement. Finally, we need to recognize that for some of our homeless neighbors, traditional employment is not an option. We need to support these clients in their pursuit of increased independence.

Personal Belongings: I can’t imagine stripping my belongings down to what I can carry—only to have them taken from me while I slept, or in a violent altercation, or due to the workings of a cold bureaucracy. Through careful planning and partnering, I believe it’s possible for us to help clients retain their few remaining possessions.

Pets: Companion animals are sometimes the last thread connecting someone to the life they had before. They can also be a pathway of healing. By co-prioritizing the wellbeing of the animal and the wishes of their human, we will develop new and better ways to care for them both.

Early Intervention

Months before an eviction notice is drafted, before a late paycheck or surprise medical bill delays a rent payment, property managers and landlords know a family is struggling. By working with these frontline housing employees, various government agencies, and non-profit service providers, we can create a referral program to connect those most at risk with services and resources that could keep them in their homes.

A Larger Housing Safety Net

You can’t solve homelessness without homes. That’s why my administration will work with the Utah Housing Coalition and other community and business partners to expand our housing safety net. This is also why I’m so deeply committed to fighting for housing affordability.

More Social Workers

As we embrace a more humane approach to addressing various social issues—like homelessness—the need for social workers grows. Yet Utah, like other parts of the country, is experiencing a shortage of social workers. Nearly every program that cares for our homeless neighbors would be improved by using social workers. That’s why we need to work with area schools and our partners at the County and State to find and fund longterm solutions to our social worker shortage.

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When all is said and done, we can only do so much as a city… but what we do, we must do well. Our homeless neighbors deserve it and our loving citizens demand it.

Help me share this vision with others.