Story and Photos By Clara Welch
SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City has been striving to relieve the burden of homelessness and make downtown safe. A 2017 study found 2,876 homeless people across Utah — 1,804 people in Salt Lake County alone.
Operation Rio Grande — Salt Lake City’s initiative to address homelessness along the Wasatch Front — has three phases focused on reducing crime, helping those with mental illness or addictions, and finding employment and housing for individuals. Improvements have been seen from these efforts and are expected to continue.
Utah has been using a Housing First model since 2015. Housing First departs from the traditional ideas that people need to be sober and employed before they can be given a basic human necessity. Finland and Japan have adopted this method and have very low numbers of homelessness. The success rates vary, depending on how you analyze it, from 40-80 percent of those being housed remaining housed. They are encouraging numbers from a tactic that focuses on the person as a human being, not as a burden.
Organizations all across the Salt Lake Valley are striving towards the same goal as Operation Rio Grande, providing multidimensional help from medical to social needs. Community efforts are changing the care that is provided, bringing the humanity back into relieving the burden of homelessness.
Maliheh Clinic is a free clinic serving those who earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty standard. They offer multiple services, focused on providing quality healthcare no matter the ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. (Photo by Clara Welch)
Collin Hoggard, a student at the University of Utah, volunteers at the Maliheh Clinic. Hoggard explained how the Maliheh Clinic, “started as a way to reach out to the uninsured people in Utah.” It’s been serving patients who earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines since 2005.
In 2016, Maliheh had 15,344 patient visits and 28,819 volunteer hours served. Providing preventative care, the Maliheh clinic reduces the burden that emergency rooms and hospitals experience with patients coming in with easily prevented emergencies.
Hoggard is a Spanish interpreter and accompanies patients on routine visits to therapy sessions. “It’s been amazing to connect with the patients,” says Hoggard, who sees real people with real needs. It has changed the way he sees those in different circumstances than himself.
Like the Maliheh Clinic, the Fourth Street Clinic provides free healthcare and is located near Rio Grande. It’s a convenient location for many of the homeless people located downtown. The Fourth Street Clinic has a staff of over 60 people, including 7 full-time healthcare providers, and 150 volunteers providing over 14,000 hours of volunteer service. James Jarrad, Development and Communication Manager at Fourth Street Clinic, explained that the network of donors, volunteers, and staff bring quality healthcare to 5,000 yearly patients, who otherwise, would have none.
Jarrad visits with real patients who share their stories for the clinic website. “Becoming homeless can happen to anyone and for almost any reason,” he says. “There are so many different things to get to where you are in life and they can add up to either completely build your life up or tear it down,” Jarrad explains. “Sometimes you have no control, sometimes it’s within your control.”
Jarrad emphasized that, “homelessness is so much more complex”, than what the general public might think.
Connect2Health is a non-profit, student-run organization with a mission to “empower individuals to utilize community resources in order to cultivate multi-dimensional health.” By enlisting eager students, Connect2Health strives to connect patients with the resources they need to get back on their feet.
Focusing on needs other than medical, Connect2Health volunteers work one-on-one with patients at multiple locations. Volunteers can be found at Fourth Street Clinic, University Hospital, Primary Children’s, and the Wellness Bus. Connect2Health is creating a new norm by sending patients out with not only prescriptions, but resources including food, clothing, child care, and degrees.
Knowing that help is available is empowering to homeless and low-income individuals, but volunteers are impacted in a powerful way as well. “It really helps to break down bias, develop cultural sensitivity, and develop empathy,” say Alexis Lee, Director of Connect2Health.
Volunteers work with individuals, who right now, happens to be homeless, says Lee, but it is important to see these people outside of their immediate circumstances. Connect2Health engenders empathy and understanding for these individuals, Lee says.
Helping the homeless is more than just making downtown safer, it’s about seeing people for who they are. Operation Rio Grande addresses part of the issue of fixing homelessness, but it is organizations like Maliheh, the Fourth Street Clinic, and Connect2Health that fulfill the bigger picture and long-term needs.
What keeps these organization going are the volunteer hours. Donating time and spare items can make a difference in another human’s life. Homelessness is a multi-dimensional issue. A combined effort from the state, city, organizations, and individuals will help lift people from the burden of homelessness and be seen as fellow human beings with just a different set of challenges than you.