Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall recently said that, although the city has 853 beds for people experiencing homelessness, we still need at least 300 more. In reading commentary about this issue, I observed that some members of our community have the idea that providing fewer resources to people experiencing homelessness would alleviate the problem. They are of the belief that if people living on the street are not being given free food and shelter, they are more likely to find a way out of homelessness. I believe the opposite is true. To help individuals experiencing homelessness, we need more resources, not less.
I am currently a social work student doing my practicum at the Geraldine E. King Women’s Resource Center in Salt Lake City, a 200-bed shelter for women experiencing homelessness. Each night the facility is filled to capacity, and staff have to turn away people who come looking for a safe place to sleep. As the weather gets colder, the number of people looking for shelter increases. While being outside in freezing temperatures can be deadly, even more concerning are the reports of violence women experience while living on the street. It is common for our clients to report incidences of rape and assault, which have serious physical and emotional consequences. These women are living in extremely dangerous circumstances and desperately need help.
Ideally, people experiencing financial hardship would be able to turn to a support network of loved ones for assistance and a place to stay. Unfortunately, the clients we serve do not have that option. When a client comes to the resource center for the first time, our staff has a diversion conversation with them to explore all possible housing options before resorting to staying at the shelter. The clients staying at our shelter have no other place to go. They either get a bed at the shelter or they are sleeping on the street.
Without a safe place to sleep, eat and shower, how are they going to be able to focus on obtaining employment and housing? The resource centers help clients connect with housing case management, job coaching, health care and substance abuse treatment. Since its opening in 2019, the women’s resource center has successfully helped more than 100 women find housing in the community.
Providing shelter to those experiencing homelessness saves lives. Over 1,000 people in Salt Lake City currently have no home. Denying them shelter and other resources will not magically make them disappear. If our priorities are right, we will do all we can to help them.
Salt Lake City, Utah