Shivom Parihar: I was homeless in Salt Lake City. I don’t know if I would make it out alive today.

I fail to see compassion towards our most vulnerable reflected in Salt Lake City’s treatment of the unhoused.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sugar House Park on Monday, July 19, 2021.

The most visceral moments of my life were spent drifting to sleep on a piece of cardboard.

Each and every day in my elementary school classrooms was spent with a burning shame, knowing that as my peers ate fresh food, I would be making do with the McDonald’s dollar menu and gas station fare. As they rested in their furnished homes, I would sleep under the stars and pray against rain.

A farrago of personal circumstances and the effects of the ripples of the recession on my parents’ finances left me carried from shelter to shelter and, eventually, sleeping on a piece of cardboard dragged from the back of the Sugar House DI to the other side of I-80, in view of the edge of Sugar House Park.

My first night sleeping on the streets, I was a mere 8 years old. My family and I had immigrated to the United States from India six years prior, moving to join family on my American side in Salt Lake City after a brief stay in Albuquerque, which had spiraled into my first nights spent at a homeless shelter, and my first memories years prior.

Yet, as the elements creeped ever further, I could take comfort in knowing that the old Road Home and our community’s expansive network of overflow shelters would be there to shield me from the bitter cold of a Salt Lake City winter, alongside a fast-growing network of accessible housing. Today, the public housing project I reside in has a wait time of two years.

I do not have to do more than open my door today to see encampments and addiction. Every corner of Salt Lake City, particularly my downtown community, seems to bear witness daily to the pinnacle of human suffering. I am certain that I speak for every formerly homeless person in Salt Lake when I say that I see myself in every encampment, in the traumas and sorrows of every pair of despondent eyes deprived of basic dignity, as our shelters stand at capacity, winter fast approaching.

Were I homeless today, I do not know if I would make it out alive — or if my death would even be valued enough to be counted, based on a Tribune exposé from May. The lack of care from city officials was demonstrated in Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s initial opposition to a sanctioned campground and willingness to reduce the fight for our homeless neighbors to a squabble between city and state authority, albeit one culminating in the recent approval of a sanctioned camp for the city’s unhoused population, alongside one funded by the state.

Even as Salt Lake City’s housing crisis locks even more residents, particularly from my generation, out of the market, Mendenhall has opposed Salt Lake City taking an active role in directly developing nonmarket housing, proposals that have found wide success in expanding housing access in areas such as Maryland’s Montgomery County, likening such proposals to infamously crime ridden “projects.”

I wish nothing but the best to our city government, as I wish nothing but the best to the Salt Lake community I so love. But that community includes our homeless residents, and from support for abatements to the closure of public restrooms, I fail to see compassion towards our most vulnerable reflected in Salt Lake City’s treatment of the unhoused.

Shivom Parihar

Shivom Parihar is a high school senior with a driving tenacity and a devotion to community, civic engagement and the pursuit of justice.