Salt Lake City, while not a Los Angeles or New York City, has struggled to keep its homeless numbers in check. With rents rising and decent wages difficult to come by, the homeless population in Salt Lake City began to boom. When you add on an opioid epidemic plaguing the city, homelessness as a social issue was on the rise.
That is until homeless people began to oddly just vanish, seemingly into thin air. More interesting is that none of the influential reasons for homelessness, as per the ones listed above, have changed at all. Many of the shelters which were once seen filled by those looking for help are now empty. So much so, that police have searched aerially for new camps. They’ve found very little. At least nothing that could justify such a sharp decline.
‘I don’t know,’ Shearer told The Guardian when asked where the homeless have gone. ‘That’s a good question.’
Salt Lake City commonly anticipated just over 2,000 local homeless people each night. Mental health issues and drug addictions and unemployment helped perpetuate a tough matter on a city that’s of moderate size. The homelessness seemed to coincide with a rise in violent criminal activity. This justified a $67 million dollar initiative to help clean up the streets in the name of public safety. This caused, expectedly, a sharp rise in drug arrests. But most of the arrested served little time in jail (if any) and were released back into the streets.
Translation: Salt Lake City seemingly invested more in pushing addicts through the court system and much less, if any, on getting them any real treatment for true reform. So did this force the homeless to leave out of fear of doing time and constant police harassment? The answer is a definite maybe.
‘It’s not doing what they want,’ Brema Jones, a homeless woman, told the newspaper. ‘It’s not helping druggies, not getting them into rehab. Everybody is spreading out.’
‘The rhetoric from the mayor and policy workers was “We’re trying to help,”‘ local activist Michael Clara said. ‘Well, you should help them downtown. Don’t scatter them and then try to help.’
‘They’ve cleaned the place up,’ said Zach Curry, a homeless man who has been living in Utah’s capital city for the past 10 years.
‘People were committing suicide on drugs left and right. It was getting a bad rep for Salt Lake City.’
Police say they welcome the homeless to come back if they did indeed leave. However, the disappearances remain unsolved for now.
Cities and states need to find a way to change their focus from draconian drug laws, which are often tools of convenience used to harass people and begin to focus on treating people for addiction. Wasting millions of dollars arresting the homeless could likely have been used in getting them cleaned up and back to contributing to the working class.
For those that believe something more sinister is involved, that’s understandable, however, never underestimate how sinister our criminal justice system can be. If these people have left, wouldn’t other surrounding cities notice a rather severe spike in homeless residents? I’m guessing that these people didn’t get together and plot a way to spread out amongst many cities as a way to remove the full-brunt from a lone city. And further interesting, wouldn’t some homeless be aware of the plans of other homeless people? This is a community, how could nobody have any information on where people they see on a daily basis are traveling to? If this many have decided to take a new path, one has to assume there have been conversations that influenced the herd rather than thousands of lone wolfs that simply got a travel bug. The details we know, which are extremely limited, are beyond peculiar in nature.
All the same, the fact remains, this should still serve to influence city officials around the country to find better ways to deal with drug addictions and mental illnesses. As well, find ways to stimulate their economics.