Utah Stories

Getting Better Handle on Salt Lake’s Unsheltered Population

A new Grand Plan is to initiate a sanctioned homeless campground and a “transformational campus” for homeless individuals to get far more help, especially for drug addiction, mental illness, and vocational training. 


Unsheltered men camping on the back of Rio Grande in Salt Lake City
Unsheltered men camping on the back of Rio Grande in Salt Lake City

The Grand Plan – How Salt Lake City along with the support of Utah leaders can get a much better handle on our unsheltered population

Today the Pioneer Park Coaltion (PPC) has a new Grand Plan to initiate a sanctioned homeless campground and a “transformational campus” for homeless individuals to get far more help, especially for drug addiction, mental illness, and vocational training. 

A site, funding nor timeline for these additional services is not yet in place. But the PPC has heavy-hitting former Utah State Legislators in leadership roles, and plans will likely start moving forward during the next legislative session. “More cities in Utah need to realize this isn’t just Salt Lake City’s problem. This is Utah’s problem,” said James Buchanan. He added, “We need sanctioned campgrounds and homeless resource services in every major city along the Wasatch front, but most importantly we need accountability,” Buchanan says that today Salt Lake County is currently carrying the entire weight of Utah’s homeless population. “There are virtually no resources in other cities.”

Provo is one of the largest cities in Utah, and they offer no homeless shelter or resource centers, as a result, those who are priced out of the housing market in Utah County, come to Salt Lake County for services. Consequently,  Salt Lake County’s homeless services are completely full and lacking in support staff. “We are short dozens of caseworkers and support staff. “ Jean Hill, of the Catholic Community Diocese told us on the Utah Stories Show. This is because “Case workers can earn more by working at Subway.” There isn’t currently any plan to increase the wages to attract more caseworkers.

The Approval of the Otherside Village

The good news on the affordable housing front is the building approval and zoning changes to begin construction of the Otherside Village. The Salt Lake City Council has approved the plans to build 58 deeply-affordable housing units on eight out of potentially forty acres of what promises to be a supportive-housing community. 

The Otherside Village will be just a small drop in the bucket in terms of the overall demand for deeply-affordable housing. But this Otherside Village promises to become “self-sufficient” and after two years require no tax-payer or city support, as the Otherside folks believe that “work is therapy”. Also, far fewer caseworkers are required. The Other Side Academy (OSA) maintains a peer-support model. Meaning peers who succeed mentor new tenants who need the support and help to get into jobs and/or beat their addictions. The OSA has proven to be a success in truly transforming the lives of former felons, drug addicts, and alcoholics. But it’s clear more transformational help is desperately needed.

If planning began now for ten tiny-home villages to be built in every city along the Wasatch Front, certainly our affordable housing situation, especially for those who are able to take low-skilled jobs, could be solved in the next few years. If “transformational campuses” were supported by LDS Church philanthropists, the LDS Church, and other Christian Churches, Utah could put everyone currently suffering on the streets under shelter and into recovery and vocational programs. Why this should be a top priority for the Utah State Legislature and Utah leaders?

The Current Homeless Supplying the Heavy Need for Labor

Salt Lake County, especially restaurants and low-skilled jobs are currently facing a massive labor shortage. There isn’t a restaurant in the valley that isn’t currently seeking more kitchen staff, wait staff, and help. Many are closing their doors simply because they can’t get enough help. 

If the unsheltered homeless were placed in transformational campuses they could fill some of the current job openings since many of them are smart, already skilled, and educated enough. For example, John is an unsheltered homeless man who had his truck and all of his tools stolen from him nearly three years ago, then lost his job and apartment. He says he is ready to get back on his feet, but he says he “keeps getting knocked down.” Because of the frequent need to move everything due to the current police abatements. 

 “While just a small few might make us look bad, there are skilled mechanics out here, and people with degrees. But they have got to stop just pushing us down. Give us a real chance and we can get off the streets.” 

A few moments after John told me this, (see video below) by orders of the Salt Lake City Police Department, his camp was forced to disassemble their tent and find a new place to camp. John and his friends’ tents were camped on the back side of Rio Grande Station 200 feet from where the previous 1,000-bed Road Home was demolished. Here virtually nobody except homeless people walk, located near Saint Vincent’s, where they get their meals. Still, they are being harassed for staying there.


The scene is tragic. This can’t be the same Salt Lake City with the ritzy new apartments, hotels, and the fancy headquarters of the LDS Church, but like many other boom cities, it’s both the best of times and the worst of times


Are Salt Lake Homeless Resource Centers a Failure for the Neighborhoods that Welcomed Them?

Hundreds of Unsheltered People are Sleeping on Salt Lake City’s Streets Tonight. Why?

Salt Lake City’s Homeless Abatement Policies Examined

New York Times Journalist Appalled by the Homeless Situation in Salt Lake

Investigating Homelessness Death and Public Safety in Utah



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