The salutation “Have a happy and prosperous New Year” is one we often hear this time of year. But for those on the bottom rungs of society, the phrase is freighted with both irony and hope.
Karren Cardenas, 43, has been living on the streets of Salt Lake City for years, and it has taken a toll. Making matters worse is that she now has cancer and uses a wheelchair. When asked what she would like to see in the new year, Cardenas began weeping.
When she collected herself, she said, “We all just need to get together and care for each other instead of stealing from each other.”
After some more thought, she added: “And I’d like for people to be less judgmental of the homeless.”
Mike is 52 and is staying at The Road Home shelter while he continues to recuperate from a life-threatening accident. In mid-October, he was riding his bicycle on 1300 South near 400 East when a speeding panel van rolled on top of him, leaving him with a broken hip, three broken ribs and a brain injury. He was in the hospital for 32 days and lost 70 pounds.
“I’d like to get back to normal, hopefully,” he said of his new year’s wish. “I’d like to get my health back, and I’d like to get back to work.”
Mike made his living hanging drywall. But now, he said, he’s too weak for that kind of work. He’s unsure what he will do now to earn a living. “I have to do something,” he said, “or I’ll go nuts.”
Shannon Owen, 40, has called the shelter home for about 12 months. She’s been fighting lymphoma for several years. Her chemotherapy treatments leave her too ill to work. If that isn’t enough, her compromised immune system is constantly challenged at the shelter.
“We’re in such close quarters here,” she said. “I’m sick all the time.”
Owen’s husband was busted for drugs but recently got out of jail. He now is in mandatory residential rehab and cannot work until he completes it. So Owen must fend for herself.
What she wants for the new year is what most people take for granted: good health, a roof over her head and a modicum of security.
“Living in the shelter is really tough, especially for a female,” she said. “And even when we qualify for housing, they say there are no funds available. That can’t be right.”
Loren is a 26-year-old man who on Thursday was pushing a shopping cart full of his possessions along 500 West near 200 South. He said he lost his home and his job because he got “out of control with drugs.”
“I had a great life,” he said. “It’s all my own fault that I lost it.”
His new year’s wish is that police treat homeless people with more respect. “The way we get treated, they have something against us,” he said. “They all have an idea about us. They think we’re like animals. It’s sad.”
Tricia Graham is 38 years old and has been homeless since 2012. She has lived in Layton, Park City, California and Salt Lake City.
“I just want an end of violence,” she said of her new year’s wish. “I want humanity and love.”
Graham seems content with her plight and is in no rush to find permanent housing. “I just need a couple of dollars here and there,” she said. “I just want everyone to have a good life.”
Randall Burke works for Advantage Services on a cleanup crew around the shelter. He’s 54 years old and has been homeless for five months. He has qualified for Rapid Rehousing, a federal program administered in Salt Lake City by The Road Home.
Rapid Rehousing pays a deposit and up to three months’ rent. But Burke has yet to find a place he can afford. When rent and utilities come due on the fourth month, it will be his responsibility, and the housing shortage in Salt Lake County is driving up rents.
Burke doesn’t mind working for Advantage Services, but he said he doesn’t get many hours. He used to have a job at a call center and hopes he can get back to that.
“I’d like to get a better job and a place to live,” he said, “just like everybody else.”