On North Temple, near 15th West, I find a family who is choosing to camp in an empty parking lot under tarps rather than stay in a shelter. A woman and her two adult sons are taking extreme measures to survive in the frigid temperatures. They use candle wax as well as hand sanitizer to burn small fires under their tarps and blankets to stay warm. Why are they taking such extreme measures instead of finding a warm place in the overflow shelter?
The twenty-something son of the woman I was speaking with was keeping to himself until I mentioned how I had found that a severe MRSA outbreak was happening just prior to the closure of the Road Home in 2017. The young man says, “I almost died in the shelters. I’ll never go back there if I can help it.” He then rolls up his sleeves and shows me a series of skin grafts on his arms as well as two half missing fingers which was a result of his contracting the staff infection at a shelter. “You never really get rid of MRSA, you just need to live with it the rest of your life.” He tells me.
In the same parking lot, I find a young 22-year old woman named Madison who says that she recently found a place to live in, but she has been on and off the streets for the past three years. She says her grandfather died of a heroin overdose. In addition, her father and mother are also homeless. Her father just got out of prison but within the first week, his car was impounded for parking in one place for too long.
“People think that it could never happen to them, and they think it’s easy to get off the streets. But just try to survive this and somehow save up enough money for the first and last month’s rent and a deposit. It’s much harder than you can imagine.” Maddison says that drugs are everywhere and, “nearly everyone is on drugs.” But she adds it’s what people need to do to survive.
I asked several people about the State’s voucher program, which is designed to assist homeless people with their rent as well as help them find rooms at motels and hotels. The mother of the young man who had MRSA tells me, “The vouchers don’t work. What good is a voucher if nobody will take it?” She says there is no affordable housing and as a result, nobody is getting off the streets.
WATCH THE VIDEO
Helping Homeless in Utah this Holiday Season
Six Years of Failed Homeless Policy in Salt Lake City
No Hiding the Homeless: Pandemic pulls back the curtain on SLC homelessness
Subscribe to Utah Stories weekly newsletter and get our stories directly to your inbox