Letter: What will it take to prompt homelessness reform?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A man naps on the sidewalk infant of the temporary overflow shelter in Sugarhouse, Tuesday April 14, 2020

Last winter’s legislative session saw a staggering lack of bills addressing the issue of homelessness in Utah. This is especially shocking considering that, last year, there was an average of 2,798 homeless individuals state-wide on any given day — a number that should not go overlooked.

However ignored this issue has previously been, the current climate of global pandemic must surely draw attention to it. Being high school students, my classmates and I have certainly experienced many glaring repercussions of this worldwide event, but many people have it much worse.

As millions of Utahns shelter in place to prevent contracting or spreading illness, the thousands belonging to the homeless population are left to fend for themselves. Without private residence, sufficient disposable income or adequate access to health and sanitation services, the virus is able to spread rampantly. Moreover, the homeless population already suffers from disability and illness rates of up to twice that of the general population. For example, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is three times more than the general population. Since health issues, particularly immunodeficiency and respiratory ones, have been proven by the CDC to show higher death rates, the effect on homeless populations is devastating.

Clearly, more measures need to be put in place to ensure that Utah will be better prepared in the event of a similar phenomenon in the future. While bills such as 2019’s House Bill 342, which prioritizes a “housing-first” policy and have successfully reduced the number of homeless individuals in Utah in the recent past, more legislation of similar nature needs to be seen in the political arena.

At a time like now, it is undeniable that these types of policies do not just benefit those who are re-housed, but go as far as contributing to the quality of global health.

Jude Whitten, Salt Lake City

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