Gehrke: Three ghosts should visit the small band trying to drive a homeless medical clinic out of their Utah neighborhood

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Orval Boss was homeless and now lives at the Inn Between in Salt Lake City on Wednesday Dec. 12, 2018.

"Are there no prisons?"

"Plenty of prisons..."

“And the union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“Both very busy, sir...”

“Those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”


Crushing medical bills resulting from his diabetes forced 56-year-old Orval Boss to the streets. Already having endured four amputations and suffering from a heart condition and a bone infection in his foot, Boss has now found refuge and care thanks to The INN Between.

The INN Between opened in a cozy neighborhood north of Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood six months ago, designed to provide medical treatment and end-of-life care to as many as 50 of our community’s homeless residents.

In Boss’ case, he says the staff has saved his life, and for numerous others, they have provided peace and dignity to those who might otherwise die on the streets.

It is a project born from pure kindness and mercy.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Tribune staff portraits. Robert Gehrke.

So of course a small group, led by Sophia Anderson and Tammy Castleforte, is trying to shut it down. They contend the facility is not simply providing medical care, but is a de facto homeless shelter. They complain it has attracted homeless people to the area and spurred suspicious activity in their well-to-do neighborhood.

“It’s so funny,” Anderson told my colleague, Taylor Stevens, recently. “You say, ‘I kind of have some concerns about a homeless shelter being in my neighborhood’ and all of a sudden, you’re uncompassionate; you’re a bigot.”

It’s true that raising concerns doesn’t mean one lacks compassion. But the tactics of The INN Between’s opponents goes well beyond simply raising concerns.

Photographing ill people simply seeking medical care, however, might qualify as “uncompassionate,” or possibly as harassment and is something none of us would tolerate.

Raising money to mount a legal challenge aimed at trying to shut down a place that is opening its doors and providing help and treatment and comfort to the least among us probably isn’t what Mother Teresa would have done.

Committing your energy — “like a full-time job,” as Anderson put it — to driving the destitute and dying out of the only place they have left to turn to doesn’t exactly capture the spirit of Christmas or christianity or basic human decency.

And it’s not, no matter what Anderson said, even a little bit funny.

“Our group has made a promise, a pact to each other, that we will not quit until The INN Between is out of our neighborhood, and they can never move into anyone else’s neighborhood,” Anderson said at a recent community meeting.

Her solution is to push The INN Between into an industrial area, to essentially warehouse dying human beings in warehouses, where they belong. As Scrooge said, “Are there no prisons?”

The callousness is staggering.

Homeless services are fine, apparently, if they are provided downtown or in South Salt Lake. Homeless people are fine, so long as the upstanding residents in nice neighborhoods never have to encounter them.

But if this “surplus population” starts creeping eastward, into these rustic Sugar House neighborhoods, where homes sell for $600,000 and up, well, then something must be done. There are pearls to be clutched, neighbors to organize, money to raise and attorneys to hire.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kim Adams was homeless and now lives at the Inn Between in Salt Lake City on Wednesday Dec. 12, 2018.

Imagine if all that energy was instead channeled in a positive direction, raising money to help buy blankets and supplies for The INN Between, or organizing neighbors to simply go visit and comfort those patients who are spending their last days in a bed after months or years on the streets.

Perhaps tonight these neighbors who have exhibited such irrational hostility to The INN Between will be visited by three ghosts and shown the error of their ways.

For the rest of us, let’s aspire to capture a little bit of the grace and mercy that is at the core of The INN Between and share it with those in need.