Utah Stories

Turning a Blind Eye to Rampant Drug Abuse, Assault, and Death in Salt Lake City

Tommy Candelaria came on the Utah Stories podcast to discuss his experience as a homeless unsheltered person in Salt Lake City, and to express the many horrifying events he experienced during that time.


Section 42 Housing leaders are not interested in solving the rampant drug trafficking problems around facilities in North West Salt Lake City according to the former manager of City Inn.

Tommy Candilaria

Tommy Candilaria’s trim athletic appearance and hardened exterior are indicative of his character. Tommy is a fighter and a survivor. He survived a traumatic childhood in which his father put his hands on a gas-burning stove severely burning him. He says athletics was his outlet for the pain and abuse he suffered during his childhood.

Candilaria grew up in Utah on Salt Lake City’s West Side. His background in football and basketball and his Hispanic/Native American heritage intimately connected him with the community, especially the rough parts of Rose Park and Glendale. 

Overcoming Addiction and Homelessness

“You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen.” He says. Candilaria’s prior drug usage and addiction problems caused his life and his relationships with his former wife and children to fall apart. Candilaria became estranged from his family. He moved to California for 20 years where he was an in-house nurse for an elderly woman. However, sobriety became a struggle in maintaining relationships with his family. But he says he has remained sober since he returned to Salt Lake City several years ago.

When Candilaria returned to Salt Lake City, he was unable to afford housing; he found himself living on the streets in his Kia Rio with his dog Inky, a 125-pound Lab/Japanese Akita. Eventually, Candilaria moved into the Men’s homeless shelter where his dog got into fights with a “mean German Shepherd”, which resulted in returning to living in his car. He would wash up at the truck stop off I-215 and Redwood Road until he moved into a place that he could afford.

Candilaria found that he qualified for Title 42 housing. It was a great opportunity when he was able to move into the City Inn and get an affordable apartment with a kitchenette for $750 per month. His life improved even more when the facility offered him the position to become the property manager. 

Fighting Drug Trafficking

Candilaria says that the drug trafficking and crime that existed in and around the facility, made him determined to stand up and do his part to fight to improve his neighborhood. He frequently called and worked with police to help bust drug dealers and criminals who were tearing apart the social fabric of the area. The City Inn was the home to a prostitution ring and the former owner was charged in 2012.

But then his efforts began to receive push-back. This retaliation came not only from drug dealers and criminals whom he was helping to convict but from the Property Owner and Homeless Support NGO as well.

According to Candilaria, The Road Home has an agreement with the City Inn to sublease some of their units to provide to those who are seeking housing. “I could tell that at least three of the people they brought in were going to die.” 

Deaths Due to Addiction in Homeless Housing

He found that their addiction to heroin and methamphetamines, for which they were receiving no treatment would lead to their eventual death, and he started speaking out about this. He witnessed two tenants die. “These men didn’t need to die, they just needed a little support and encouragement to regain their dignity and self-esteem.” While Candilaria tried to provide some of that support, he felt that these men needed and deserved much more. He decided to speak out. 

Fighting Corruption in Homeless Housing Organizations

“Then I was told I needed to be quiet.” However, Candilaria did not want to be quiet. He continued to point out the flaws in the system and point out the criminals all around him. That led to getting assaulted and eventually receiving an eviction notice.

“I think they believed that they could intimidate me or get me to shut up, but I told them that I was going to fight this.” And he did fight. And a judge in the case determined that he was facing a wrongful eviction.

“I was told that (Executive Director of the Road Home) Michelle Flynn wanted me gone. I don’t know if they were just throwing her under the bus or if that is true, but it was clear that Keith Warburten wanted me to stop rocking the boat. “They are fine with all of the drug use here. They want us to turn a blind eye and I didn’t want to do that.” Candilaria added, “I could see that they were okay with people using drugs all day and dying, because they always had more people they could just move right in, but these are people who need help. These are veterans who deserve our support and don’t deserve to just die.”

Candilaria said that last year around Christmas there was a flood in the unit above his, and mold began growing. This flood made the unit toxic and uninhabitable. Facing an eviction notice for his complaints and deteriorating health including shingles, due to the mold, Candilaria decided to move out. “I’m going to fight this and take it to the media!” He told the building owner Keith Warburten. Candilaria says that other news outlets did not want to cover this story, Candilaria was grateful to get on the Utah Stories Podcast and share what he says is corruption among Utah’s homeless housing organizations. 

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