Michael Valentine: Salt Lake City must ban homeless abatements and enact sanctioned camping

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) People camping on the block on 500 West pack up their belongings before the Rapid Intervention Team moves in to scoop it into the dumpster, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.

It’s the summer of 2012: I am 24 years old. Desperate for a better life, I move to Salt Lake City, fitting whatever I can into my small car. I have no money, nothing for an apartment, nothing for a deposit.

Thankfully, it’s the dead of summer so I hide a tent up Emigration Canyon equipped with an air mattress. The ground is slanted so I slide and gradually roll to one side in my sleep. The air and the heat are scorching. I sidestep rattlesnakes on my way to and from my forest home. This is the most desperate time of my life, but I take a chance on myself, a chance on returning to the city in which I was born. I have one tiny, hopeful idea that if I can just figure this out, I will be alright here. I can one day be happy and at home. This is my homeless story.

Eleven years later, I am grateful to now be housed, have a job and own my own business that I adore as a community organizer and director of nonprofits fighting for the public. I’m a student at the great University of Utah and a filmmaker passionate about a world of endless creative possibilities.

I am grateful to have survived being homeless. I was lucky to have had a car, a tent, a phone, a computer and that I was able to find places to shower. I didn’t suffer from trauma, abuse, drug use or such horrific pain and experiences like my fellow homeless friends and family. I am lucky that I mostly just needed a job and that I was in a position to help myself, whereas most others are not. I am lucky that I was homeless a decade ago when housing prices were much cheaper than they are now.

Now, a decade later, I continue to be grateful and humble that I found my home and am now running to serve the community as the next mayor of Salt Lake City. I believe I may be the only candidate in Utah running for any office who has personally been homeless, who has a deep, fundamental understanding of what it feels like to sleep in a public park, to be so exhausted with nowhere to go, to experience the intense feelings of loneliness and otherness that being homeless brings.

It’s from my own personal experiences and the experiences of our unsheltered community that I am now running for mayor. I’m running to completely eradicate homelessness from Salt Lake City forever. Housing should truly be a human right.

In February of this year, I released a detailed housing/homelessness plan to cure homelessness in Salt Lake. I remain the only candidate to release a plan on this issue. The plan calls for a citywide state of emergency, the banning of homeless abatements, the implementation of sanctioned camping, unifying community resources and moving unsheltered folks directly into permanent housing. I am pleased to see the newly sworn in mayor of Denver, Mike Johnston, instantly declare a state of emergency vowing to house 1,000 people by the end of 2023, exactly as my plan has outlined. I have made the ambitious goal to house every homeless person in the city within the first year of my administration. I truly believe Salt Lake City will be the first major American city to eradicate homelessness, that we will lead the world.

Unfortunately, we can’t wait until November as abatements are still happening. Two out of three of the mayoral candidates — Rocky and I — support banning abatements and implementing sanctioned camping. Sanctioned camping is a win-win-win that protects our most vulnerable people, unites our community to help and is the first step to a better tomorrow.

We need to do just that right now, not after November. Every homeless death, every injury is avoidable. We alone have the power to choose humanity or inhumanity.

Please join me in signing this petition to demand that Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson ban homeless abatements.

Michael Valentine

Michael Valentine is a filmmaker, U of U student, community organizer, business owner and current candidate for Salt Lake City mayor.