One question I am often asked after telling people I am a housing case manager for the chronically homeless is, “How can I help the homeless or someone who is on the verge of experiencing homelessness?” Although these are complex and regional issues, I believe the following are several actionable steps that a community and its residents can take to limit people’s threat or experience of homelessness. I believe prevention is the most effective way to combat homelessness.
I genuinely believe that residents must treat someone experiencing or close to experiencing homelessness with empathy and compassion. Homelessness can occur to nearly anyone, and it’s unfair to place judgment on someone without knowing all of the details, especially when it’s often the result of bad luck.
I have talked to many people who feel shame in going to food banks. Let us work as a community to remove the stigma of going to food banks or other community organizations, especially when COVID-19 has devastated our communities this year. Many of Salt Lake City’s west-side residents are one paycheck away from homelessness. Still, thankfully there is an abundance of resources available to help, and many are located right here on the West Side.
One of the most vital tools in preventing homelessness is for residents to utilize and donate to local food banks or thrift stores. The Salt Lake City Mission on 1151 S. Redwood Road, the Concern Center on 1235 W. California Ave, and the Salvation Army on 438 South 900 West are just a few examples of great options for west-side residents to access free food. Crossroads Urban Center Thrift Store on 1385 West Indiana Ave is available for low-income individuals and families to shop for household items or clothing with a voucher easily obtained from Crossroads. Additionally, all these organizations are great options for west-side residents to volunteer or contact to see what donations are needed to help support their fellow neighbors.
Another way that west-side residents can help reduce homelessness is to attend their local community council and city council meetings. Glendale, Rose Park, Poplar Grove, Fairpark, Jordan Meadows, Westpointe and Ballpark all have community councils. These are great forums for discussion about homelessness and homelessness prevention, particularly since representatives from Salt Lake City Mayor’s office and a local representative from the Salt Lake City Police Department are usually in attendance to address residents’ concerns. During the pandemic, most of these councils are holding meetings virtually. (See the Community Bulletin towards the back of this newspaper for info on specific community council meeting dates and times.)
Lastly, residents can help people experiencing homelessness on the west-side of Salt Lake City by calling the VOA Outreach Response Line at 385-266-0020. This is a constructive alternative to calling the police on groups of people camping outside. This Outreach Response Line helps people get connected to food, clothing, and medical care and helps them along the path to getting a permanent solution to their current housing crisis. Additionally, residents can also download the Salt Lake City Mobile App and report homeless camps that are then reported to the VOA Outreach Team, who will in turn, respond appropriately.
Although these may seem like small solutions to a massive problem, if everyone contributes a little of their time and resources, our communities could help reduce and prevent homelessness drastically, one action at a time.
Cody Egan is a Glendale resident who works as a case manager for the chronically homeless at Housing Connect. He also serves on the board of the Glendale Community Council.