HOUSING + HOMELESSNESS

At a vigil to remember those who died homeless in Utah, talk of the future

Dec 22, 2022, 5:00 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:16 am

At a vigil to remember those who died homeless in Utah, talk of the future...

JoAnne Johanson, whose children both died while experiencing homelessness, attends the annual candlelight vigil honoring those who died while homeless this year at Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. At least 159 people who were homeless in Utah died in 2022. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A candlelight vigil was held on Dec. 21 to remember the 152 homeless people who died in Utah this year. It was held in Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City. 

During the vigil, all 152 names were read aloud. Some people spoke about those being remembered, and what life is like when you don’t have a permanent place to call home.

“I know the struggles, I know the hardships that they face,” Kaden Coil told KSL TV. “And I know their successes and their wins. But the losses are just as hard.”

Coil is a case manager at the Salt Lake Mission, an emergency shelter for families with children that serves up to 300 people per night according to its webpage.

More beds for the Utah homeless, but is it enough?

The day of the vigil became a new type of memorial day after Gov. Spencer Cox named December 21 as Homeless Person’s Memorial Day in Utah. And this week the governor revealed a new fiscal policy that includes millions of dollars for more beds at homeless shelters. 

Maude Norman attended the vigil. And she said that more beds are fine, but at the same time, more is needed from the government.

“They do need more beds. But they also need a long-term solution to try to help people,” she said.

The Salt Lake Mission is one of the organizations that helps people experiencing homelessness in Utah. At the vigil, the director, Pastor Shawn Clay, spoke of the need for housing.

“They need a safe place where they can be and start their lives over again,” Clay said.

Earlier this week, when news reached Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall that five unsheltered people had died in freezing outdoor temperatures, she issued an executive order authorizing homeless shelters to open more beds. 

“It’s a year-round issue. We’re doing a temporary band-aid fix here,” Mendenhall said in a press conference about the order. “This is not a solution.” 

The Utah Medical Examiner’s office plans to begin tracking housing status at the time of death for anyone who passes away in the State of Utah. The information should help provide the state with the average life expectancy and evidence of the causes of death of those suffering from homelessness.

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At a vigil to remember those who died homeless in Utah, talk of the future