A resource center is not a homeless shelter, and that helps explain their $63 million price tag. Was this a good investment? We will get to that later in the story, but first I would like to know: What do young homeless people think about these new centers?
“Jessica” is a homeless millennial. She says she is “homeless by choice.”
“It’s the choices I made that resulted in me being without a home. My Dad couldn’t deal with me, so he kicked me out.” Jessica is a heroin addict, which she has under enough control to maintain a good conversation. She is articulate, lucid and thoughtful. It really doesn’t seem she should be here in Fairmont Park on a chilly fall afternoon.
If she were working at any of the Sugar House area businesses or walking around, it would be hard to peg her and her boyfriend as being either homeless or addicts, but they are just that. What does she think about the Road Home closure?
“I would never go there. I don’t like Pioneer Park, the cops are way too rude. They have made it essentially illegal to simply hang out there at all. Their discriminatory actions have driven everyone away. It seems like a good idea that they closed the Road Home, I personally would never stay there.”
Jessica’s boyfriend stirs a few times in our conversation. He is passed out. “It’s getting damn cold right now. We are heading to California soon to get a fresh start.” As we are talking a chubby squirrel approaches within a few feet of us. “Is that guy a friend of yours?”
“Yea, that’s Chubs. I feed her. You can see she gets plenty to eat. The other squirrels are stealing from her, and she’s too chubby to chase them now.”
Jessica’s laugh and smile describing Chub’s dumbfounded expression when the squirrels are stealing from her is priceless. Since her boyfriend was asleep, I set out to catch up with them another day.
Three Days Later
I returned three days later to find that Jessica’s boyfriend had been arrested for a warrant for breaking parole. “I guess I don’t know what I’m going to do now. We were going to head to California. Now he is going to be in prison for a while; it could be a long while. I really have no idea where I’m going to go.”
Jessica is drawing an elaborate letter “J” for her friend. It’s colored and shaded. She obviously has some artistic talent. “Why don’t you go and use the resources?”
“Yea, that’s what they keep telling me. ‘Use the resources’, ‘enroll in our program’; ‘give us all your personal information’. Why is everyone so eager for me to sign up? What’s the deal here?”
I suggest that likely they want to help her because she is so young. I find out Jessica is 23. I also learned that her mother was a drug user when she was pregnant with her and that she lost custody of her when her parents divorced when she was very young. Her father is an alcoholic and her brother is serving time as an alleged sex offender. I commissioned her to draw Chubs the squirrel for me. I also found out that she has more “family” in Fairmont Park, and they don’t readily accept outsiders into their group. Another young man is sleeping beside her.
I visited Memory Grove. Above the Park there is an area notorious for “urban campers” and I have heard that there were several groups staying here. I walk around and find many camps, with sleeping blankets and garbage but no people. Down at the base of the camp, I find a young couple from Cheyenne, Wyoming, “White Wolf and Andrea”. They arrived in Salt Lake City three months ago. White Wolf was active duty Army and served in Iraq. He said that his dad kicked him out of his house. But he said that when he and his girlfriend attempted to find beds in the new resource centers they were told, “It’s all booked and there are no more beds.”
He says he knows how to stay inside of “an old sewer tunnel if needed”. He actually doesn’t mind that. “I would like to find out how to get my ID, but I’ve been sent on a wild goose chase.” Their little hideout isn’t easily visible, but they said with the cold setting in their routine is now sleeping all day and walking around all night to stay warm. I tell them I’ll try to find out some information about how they can get a bed.
Gail Miller Resource Center
The Gail Miller Resource Center is an immaculate building. Walking inside, the staff is happy the residents are friendly. I asked Daren Tarentino about how he would compare the new center to the old Road Home. “There really is no comparison. This place has comfortable beds, hot showers.” He said that the Road Home’s beds were notoriously hard and it was impossible to get a hot shower because the water was always left on.
An African-American man going by the name of “Cowboy” echoed Daren’s sentiment. He says that he is getting all of the resources he needs to be comfortable. I asked both men about the help they are receiving to find jobs. Daren says that every day they present them job listings. “There are openings at Lowes, Little America, Grand America…They show you these listings, but that is about it.” He added that the only major downside is that in order to maintain a bed reservation he needs to check in both in the morning and again between 5-7 PM. “It really takes a lot of the time I could otherwise be spending doing other things, like looking for a job.”
Since the Center is now full I asked Tarintino if he feels lucky to be there. “Not lucky. Blessed. I feel blessed for all of the donors. I feel blessed to be in a place I feel comfortable and safe.”