Episode 10 - Dislocated
Early in 2017 a plan to relocate Salt Lake City, Utah's homeless population to new shelters built around the state met strong resistance. The incident garnered a lot of news attention and received a lot of strong rebukes but in the end, it didn’t change the situation. Draper City isn’t getting a shelter. The resistance was similar, though less vitriolic, in other cities and the results similar.
The big problem is that the city of Salt Lake is undergoing a plan to redevelop the area where the largest shelter is located a spot known as the Rio Grande. City officials cite issues like drug abuse, crime, and violence as the incentive as well as the interest of local business
The plan was to build shelters and move the homeless population to these new facilities around the state. The problem is that the shelters don’t exist, but the plan to move the homeless population is moving ahead regardless. It’s called operation Rio Grande and so far nearly 500 people have been arrested and hundreds of other dispersed into the neighborhoods behind the Rio Grande.
It’s a complicated situation. It’s heart breaking because hundreds of people are being displaced and sent packing with literally nowhere to go. Removed from the facilities and resources that are striving to meet their needs.
What’s interesting is that in 2015 Utah was being celebrated for having “solved” homelessness with a housing first strategy. NPR, HuffPost, and others wrote articles on the amazing work my state was doing.
But today, homelessness is more of an issue than ever. The rate has grown, the opioid epidemic has ruined lives without prejudice and now case workers are seeing an even higher rise of young people on the street.
Add Onto that, that Federal funding for housing and urban development is being cut which directly impacts funds flowing to housing programs for the homeless and those who are on the verge homelessness.
And if that all isn't enough already, right now as I record, Houstan is recovering from Hurricane Harvey and Florida is bracing itself for Irma the largest Hurricane of its kind every recorded. Everyones lives are upended by natural disasters but this is especially true of the homeless who have no safety nets or systems of support. Reuters published an article about how the homeless population of houstan, who had been on housing waiting lists, are losing their spots too folks who have recently lost their homes in the storm. I’m not making a moral judgement on this but, we need to note that the homeless suffer at a categorically different level during disastrous and it for the most part goes unseen and undiscussed. This doesn’t even include people whose housing situation is already precarious and are one emergency away from homelessness.
If you’re like me you want to do something, but aren’t quite sure what. How are people, Christians, and especially the church supposed to respond to homelessness not just in SLC but everywhere we find it? Is there something that we can do or are we stuck?