Unsheltered Utah opens warming tent for unhoused people to escape frigid temperatures

Jan 31, 2023, 7:00 PM | Updated: 7:30 pm

a homeless camp on the side of the road is pictured. The Utah homeless population is increasing, al...

Cars drive past a homeless camp on the side of Victory Road in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. (Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — As temperatures in the state plummet far below zero, advocates with Unsheltered Utah built an unsanctioned makeshift warming tent Monday. Inside the tent were propane heaters, fires and chairs.

Executive Director of Unsheltered Utah, Wendy Garvin, joins Dave and Dujanovic hosts Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to tell the public more about the warming tent.

Salt Lake County and the warming tent

Following the construction of the warming tent, Salt Lake County opened a warming center for unhoused Utahns to escape the cold. Opening the conversation, Dujanovic asks if Garvin believes the warming center is a response to the warming tent. Garvin says she 100% believes this.

“We staffed the rec center last night,” she tells Dujanovic. “They (Salt Lake County) called us and said we are going to take the warming tent down, but we can offer you this rec center if you can staff it.”

Garvin says Unsheltered Utah said yes to the offer. The warming tent was left up, she says, “because both were needed.”

According to Garvin, about 30 people were in the warming tent and about 40 came to the rec center. She expects that more people would have shown if they had more time to get the word out.

“We see (unhoused) people all over the city in every location that we see people in the summertime,” she says. “We see them in these frigid winter temperatures.”

Overflow shelters and freezing temperatures

While overflow shelters are open, Garvin estimates a couple of hundred people are living in tents around the city. She says some unhoused individuals avoid overflow shelters because they have “valid camp setups” where they can survive each night.

“They (unhoused people) are set up for every single night to survive because they have not been able to count on the city or the county or the state to come through for them,” she says.

She says many unhoused individuals have camps with things such as propane heaters, survival gear and generators. If they were to go to an overflow shelter, they would have to leave all of this behind.

“There’s no space for storage and they’re not sure that they’re going to be able to get back into that overflow bed the next night,” she says. “They’re not sure that there’s gonna be shelter available.”

Along with these concerns, Garvin says unhoused individuals may worry they’ll be exited due to an “arbitrary” rule they may break. Overall, unhoused people do not feel that they can rely on overflow shelters, according to Garvin.

“The city and the state, they like to spin it as this is a choice,” she says. “But the truth is, they don’t feel like they can trust the system. And I think we’ve seen that that’s fair. There’s a lot of people that are not accommodated by the existing overflow shelter system.”

Future solutions

The warming tent was taken down Tuesday morning, as, Garvin says, abatement crews were in the area.

“It’s (the warming tent) several thousand dollars worth of equipment and so we can’t afford to let the city take it the way that they do are unsheltered friends,” she says.

Going forward, Garvin says Unhoused Utah will continue to staff the rec center Tuesday night. Along with this, Unhoused Utah works with a church that lets it use its facility “some of the time.”

“We’re really hoping we’re gonna find other solutions,” she says. “Last night, the only thing we could come up with was that warming tent until the city came back at the last minute with the rec center.”

In the meantime, individuals needing assistance from Unhoused Utah can visit the rec center located at 615 S. 300 W.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

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Unsheltered Utah opens warming tent for unhoused people to escape frigid temperatures