PROVO, Utah – A tale as old and common as the American Dream is the myth that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal failings. This is simply not the case. Often, people end up in poverty because of systemic and institutional inequality. It is not the failure of the individual but rather the failure of policies and structural injustices that poverty exists.
People experience homelessness for myriad reasons and the most common are unemployment, generational poverty and mental health challenges. In January 2020, homelessness in Salt Lake City rose 6.18% from January 2019 (based on the Point-in-Time Count). I’m sure these numbers have only increased as the global pandemic caused an increase in unemployment and economic instability, and contributed to increase in mental illness conditions.
Recently, individuals experiencing homelessness gathered together and formed “camps.” These camps provided a sense of community, connection and shared resources. In efforts led by Mayor Erin Mendenhall, these camps were deemed health hazards and were destroyed. People living in these camps were given warnings to move and take their belongings or were met with forceful removal. These camps were then bulldozed and cleared out.
People were not given resources or shelter after this violent eviction. These latest “camp cleanouts” occurred during winter months and people were left to the harsh winter conditions.
In her “state of the city” address this January, Mayor Mendenhall discussed plans to improve mental health services and substance use disorder treatment services. I hope this talk of increased and improved accessible resources and services is more than simply talk. Call your representatives and the mayor of our city and ask that these plans become a reality.