Tuesday, August 08, 2017
"This story has a ‘Brubaker’ feel to it.
It happened over four months ago, and until recently, was known by only a small handful of people.
Last March, Democratic Mayor Ben McAdams put into play something he long felt compelled to do. Due to a state law, he had to select possible sites for three new homeless centers/shelters. Two for men and one for women and children. Regardless of the choices, it would prove highly unpopular in the neighborhoods. Each perspective area arose in fury at the idea. But it had to be done. He needed a more personal perspective. And it was this catalyst that solidified his decision.
McAdams left work on a Friday with Patrick Reimherr, the Director of Government Affairs. They both wore three-day growth. No wallets, money, or I.D.’s They were dressed in their oldest jeans, sneakers, sweatshirts and hoodies.
Each had a small bag with some clothes, a blue tarp and cheap disposable phones.
And they walked the miles from City Hall to Salt Lake City’s most troubled neighborhood, Rio Grande. They disappeared amongst the thousands of homeless persons in the city. And they immersed themselves with that population.
The first night, they slept in the street. They found a spot amongst hundreds in the area against a building. They wrapped themselves with their tarps.
“I didn’t feel safe,” he said. “I absolutely did not feel safe. It was a very chaotic environment. I wanted to understand why some people would choose not to go into shelter. It was cold. Below 40’s. And it was raining. You wonder why people would choose to do that, knowing that there were beds available in the shelter.” Fights broke out and their was yelling all night.
“Some of the folks i talked to said it’s better to be outside and get some space from the drug trade and shooting gallery that inundates the area immediately in front of shelter doors.”
After a fitful 4 hours of sleep, they headed to the shelter, named The Road Home. The closer they got to the shelter, the more drug dealers plied their wares...mostly heroin, meth, coke and spice.
“The primary buyers are not homeless people. If you take the hundreds of people who are staying at the shelter and empty all of their pockets, there’s not going to be a whole lot of money to buy drugs.”
As bad as the night on the street was, the shelter was a nightmare. It housed over 1000 men. Though rules are in place, and employees and volunteers were present, it was riddled with violence and drugs. Reimherr was assigned a different dorm. McAdams’s bunkmate injected a needle into his arm in front of him. He saw similar in the dorm. The smell of the drugs was prevalent. He witnessed violence. He saw a man pulled from his bunk and heard the loud smack as his head hit the pavement.
The first thing he was told when he entered was to not take off your shoes, use your bag as your pillow and never, ever go to use the bathroom at night.
He now saw why being outside in the rain and cold was preferable. "At least it was warmer inside.”
The director of The Road Home, Matt Minkevitch, notes that though the area around the shelter is full of drug use, “...instances of people using drugs in the shelter aren’t incredibly common and don’t represent most of the clientele. For 80 percent of the 8,000 people who visited the shelter last year, it was a one-time, brief episode of homelessness before a quick return to stable housing. It’s hard to see that when you’re seeing this repetitive cycle of despair and desperation and the suffering that’s going on with the people who are living on the streets. Who are filthy dirty and confused.”
Salt Lake's Dem Mayor Goes Undercover As A Homeless Man For Three Days. Pledges Vital Assistance.