SALT LAKE CITY — It was a shocking picture making the rounds on social media, showing a homeless man nearly frozen on the streets of Salt Lake City this week. This has many people asking whether homeless shelters have enough room to keep up with demand.
Shakira Carmona was working at The Road Home shelter when the heaviest part of the storm passed over the Wasatch Front early Wednesday morning. She tells KSL’s Dave and Dujanovic that she walked outside and heard faint crying nearby. She quickly realized it was a homeless man.
“He was buried in the snow from snowfall, and I don’t know if it’s also from cars driving by and splashing snow up from the street, but he was buried and he was basically frozen,” Carmona said.
Staff members tried to help the man by shoving hand-warmers under his blankets. She remembers the man being so stiff from the cold, his arm snapped back after she lifted it. The man had blankets, but Carmona said it was obvious the blankets weren’t doing any god.
“His blankets were soaking wet, but they were also frozen and crisp all the way down to his clothes. They were soaking wet,” she said.
The man was taken to the hospital for treatment. Carmona said if he had knocked on their door, she would have been able to accommodate him.
Are the shelters full?
Are there always beds available at shelters like The Road Home? Technically, no. Executive Director Michelle Flynn said they seem to have room every day, but they fill to near capacity every night, especially in the cold weather. Sometimes, they have to tell people that there isn’t an available place to sleep at the shelter.
“I hope that it comes across with a follow-up that says, ‘Check back later,’ or, ‘You can go to overflow tonight, instead,” said Flynn.
However, if there isn’t a bed at the shelter, that doesn’t mean they’re telling people to spend the night in the cold. Flynn says there are overflow facilities, plus there are vouchers people can use for hotel rooms or apartments.
She says, “If there is room at one of the other resource centers, we have transportation that can bring them there.”
Another overflow facility that can’t be used, yet
Flynn said beds aren’t really their problem. Their real obstacle is the current labor shortage. The shelter is trying to open another overflow shelter with 250 beds inside the Ramada Hotel, but they don’t have enough workers to staff that facility. Shelter managers are trying to find new employees as quickly as possible.
“It would be very unsafe and unwise to open it with insufficient staff,” Community Advocate Pamela Atkinson said.
Sadly, Atkinson said there will always be homeless people who choose not to stay inside a shelter. Some of them may be addicted to drugs and they don’t want to be supervised in a resource center. Others don’t feel shelters are safe places to be.
“Some of the people who are shelter-resistant say they will go into an apartment. They just don’t want to go into the big resource centers,” Atkinson said.