Ian Decker and Brooks Bergmann: Politics as usual won’t solve crisis of homelessness

(Paighten Harkins | The Salt Lake Tribune) People stand near tents at a protest at Washington Square Park on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. Police later moved in to disperse the demonstrators who were occupying the park. Sixteen people were arrested.

It takes a mere moment’s worth of research into organizations such as the Downtown Alliance and the Pioneer Park Coalition to unearth deep ties between city government officials and real estate/business interests. For those who observe city politics to any extent, this is practically an assumed truth.

More than a vague question of civic ethics, the consequences of this entanglement of government and business is intense and violent. For instance, one direct consequence at the forefront of the public’s psyche as of late is the egregious homelessness crisis, induced by factors like addiction, lack of resources and the rapid rising cost of living in the city.

The city’s response to handling the human rights crisis at our hands with regards to homelessness has made one point abundantly clear: We can’t rely on mainstream political forces and business leaders to address this crisis humanely and ethically, nor can we rely on them to prioritize those living in poverty over real estate and business interests. They obliterated the Take Shelter encampment, using batons and rubber bullets against community organizers.

The state’s priorities are made clear by where our tax dollars flows and at whom the rubber bullets are targeted.

In August of 2018, Operation Rio Grande, declared a human rights catastrophe by the ACLU, devoured an astounding $67 million while service providers received a measly $1.25 million. In conjunction, a ruthless campaign of violence and political repression has been waged by Salt Lake City Police Department against community organizers committed to defending our neighbors, as made clear by the military-style assault of the Take Shelter Coalition Camp.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall has anointed her inauguration with the blood of the most exploited in our community. We are not harbingers of divisiveness, as SLCPD frames all community resistance to their iron fist, but rather, those seeking to better the lives of poor and working people.

Our city officials, for reasons of ignorance, malice or convenience, have consistently chosen to side with wealthy developers over the vast majority of city residents. For that reason we, as people facing the conditions their actions are creating, need to ask ourselves hard questions about how we should respond.

Conditions such as, according to a report by Zillow, a 10-year increase in rent of almost 50% in Salt Lake City. Conditions like 400 less beds in shelters after the closing of the Road Home. Or conditions that allow landlords to increase rent at their discretion while making no changes or improvements to a property, and evict those who can’t keep up.

These conditions have concrete solutions, such as rent control, policies expanding tenants’ rights and funding priorities that offer rent relief and housing to those on the street, or close to being on the street. These actions would save lives and, inversely, the continued failure to implement these policies has lead and will continue to lead to more deaths.

We can’t continue to let those who make decisions that impact our everyday lives so intensely hide behind the niceties and procedure of local bureaucracy. Our governing officials have made it very clear that if we want more than condescending face-saving statements we need to start taking them to task on an individual, direct and forceful, but peaceful, basis.

Ian Decker

Brooks Bergmann

Ian Decker and Brooks Bergmann represent Wasatch Tenants United.

Facebook, Instagram @WasatchTenants

Twitter @WTU_801

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