In December, I spent two weeks in downtown Salt Lake City. Late each night, I'd drive down 500 South on the way back to my hotel, and during those nightly drives, I couldn't help but notice all the tents that had sprung up on the sidewalk.
As I drove swaddled in my warm jacket with the heater blasting, I pondered how the homeless could sleep outside in such cold weather. And as a business journalist, I was curious about what Salt Lake City businesses were doing to help.
My research began with a tour of the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, which I would describe as emotional and gut-wrenching. At the shelter, I locked eyes with a quiet teenage girl standing in a corner. She quickly looked down at the floor, appearing utterly embarrassed.
She was soon joined by a clean-cut, normal-looking teenage boy carrying a backpack, who I assumed was her boyfriend. Being that it was during school hours, I wondered what brought those kids there, what was their story? I soon discovered, this article isn't about homelessness, it's about humanity.
NONPROFITS ON A MISSION
According to the Mission's executive director, Chris Crosswhite, we need every solution we can find--not just one--and that starts with compassion. Recognizing that we're talking about human beings--somebody's brother, sister, father, child, parent, aunt, or uncle. "We're talking about a person, and if that was a person in your immediate family, how would you want your family to be treated?" says Mr. Crosswhite.
As for the causes of homelessness, Mr. Crosswhite cited poverty, illiteracy, low income, lack of education, lower life skills, mental illness, medical injuries, the economy, and traumatic life events, a common precursor to addiction.
I used to believe that most homeless people were addicts who had simply made poor life choices, but I was soon educated. After conducting interviews, I was repeatedly told that addiction is frequently preceded by a traumatic life event that ends up dominating the person's life.
Cyndi Harris, who has a master's degree in social work, is the supervisor at the Rescue Mission's Women's Center in Salt Lake City, serving homeless women and children in the community. Women, she explained, are usually driven to homelessness because of unhealthy relationships. She told me that 99 percent of the time, there's trauma in their childhood.
"Romantic relationships, even platonic ones. They flee these unhealthy abusive relationships and choose homelessness over being in an...