HOUSING + HOMELESSNESS

‘Home sweet home’: Life in Salt Lake City’s temporary housing units

Dec 21, 2023, 1:10 PM | Updated: 1:20 pm

jackson smiles in his new home, provided by the state as a temporary shelter for the homeless popul...

Jackson smiles in his new home. (Hugo Rikard-Bell, KSL NewsRadio)

(Hugo Rikard-Bell, KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY — “Come in!”

The site containing temporary housing pods is so spick and span, the door on Jackson’s private unit didn’t even squeak as it swung open.

“Hey there, nice to meet you,” Jackson said.

He sat on a chair that folds out from the wall next to a table that does the same. He was facing his window and on the sill was a small tablet with YouTube up. An old music video from an era long forgotten played. Jackson didn’t bother to pause it.

His new home is a 75-square-foot ‘pod’, one of 50 that makeup Utah’s first micro shelter, built on Redevelopment Agency-owned land at 600 West and 300 South in Salt Lake City.

It finally opened last week after months of construction and some delays after difficulty finding a service provider. Thankfully for the project, the nonprofit Switchpoint put their hand up to run the site until April 30.

A place to lie down

Jackson’s space is small but warm. He has a shelf with Christmas decorations, snacks, canned food and multiple medication bottles.

Behind a curtain is his mattress, a bag of clothes and a sleeping bag. He can lock his door from the inside and has air conditioning as well.

“I’m Native American, full-blood Navajo,” he said as he starts to give his proper introductions.

He explained he grew up in near poverty and has been homeless for decades.

“Going on 35 years?” he pondered. “I’ve been homeless 35 years, in Albuquerque and then Utah.”

As he paused to scratch his chin, the scabs and scars that cover his face came into full view. His hair was unevenly chopped and his nose had been broken at least once. But there was no dirt under his fingernails.

He looked freshly showered and smelled like deodorant. His clothes were clean.

Jackson explained he has spent two winters on the streets in Salt Lake City.

“This was [going] to be my third year. Very tough. Almost froze twice in a row.”

Jackson said he has a high risk of heart failure, and if he had to spend this winter on the street, it would have been his last.

“It’s been extremely cold, the last three nights. I was thinking would have gotten wet,” he said. “There’s limited space to lie down and rest your head without other homeless coming around, taking your stuff… bothering you for alcohol and drugs.”

“I was continuously visiting the hospital twice a week. Now that I got this [shelter], they can monitor me and if I do have health problems, they’re right next door,” Jackson added.

It’s a harsh reality for the unhoused. Those with medical issues can seek treatment but often are forced to return to the streets after. Jackson said it’s an exhausting process.

Homeless in Salt Lake

Homelessness in Utah has increased almost 4% this year. According to the 2023 Annual Report on Homelessness, about 11 out of 10,000 people experience it in some form across the state.

A report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last week found that homelessness across the country hit a record high this year. According to the HUD’s report, it rose 12% nationally since 2022.

Illegal camping has also become a common sight in downtown Salt Lake. So much so that nine businesses and residents filed a joint complaint in September to the Utah Supreme Court against the city because of the impact camps have had on them and their businesses.

An effort is being made at local and state levels of government to combat homelessness, the temporary camp Jackson is calling home over the winter being a hallmark example.

It’s small though, with only 50 beds available to a growing number of those in need. At the time of reporting, at least 20 beds were already taken. 

Drugs and homelessness

Jackson explained that he wasn’t always homeless. He worked on and off in construction. Five years ago, he said his life was on track.

“My mum, my dad lived with me… I was paying rent in West Valley, and the COVID-19 struck.”

It’s unclear the exact chain of events but he said he cared for his mother when her health declined.

“My brothers don’t like me, due to me wanting to take care of my mum and… I’d say my sexuality.”

Jackson didn’t linger on that last bit. He moved on casually to his struggles with addiction, but it allowed a brief insight into an intimate struggle few may understand.

“Crystal meth, alcohol, marijuana and spice and a new drug… a blue pill,” he continued.

Without a lab report and a sample, it’s impossible to confirm exactly what the new drug Jackson describes is. However, fentanyl is the fastest-rising narcotic trafficked and distributed in Salt Lake City. It commonly appears in the form of a blue pill.

“One night a guy had five of them, [and we took them] and I got a headache for three days and I was like, I had to quit,” Jackson said.

Produced largely by the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Utah, Dustin Gillespie, said the fentanyl market is saturated for many reasons.

Since the arrest of Cartel boss El Chapo in 2014 and his sentencing in 2019, there has been a power vacuum within the ranks of the international crime syndicate. 

Gillespie said that has fostered an increase in independent manufacturers making their own pills outside of the cartel and sending them to the U.S.

This has led to an oversupply of the drug and ultimately driven the price down, making it far more accessible to addicts everywhere.

“18 months ago, a single pill cost around $12, now you’re looking at between 80 cents and $1,” Gillespie said.

Just over a week ago Utah Highway Patrol made a bust of around 65 pounds of fentanyl pills in Grand County. Earlier this year 26 Utahns received federal indictments over a drug trafficking ring spanning from West Valley to Park City.

Jackson said he has been sober now for a little over a month, “I feel pretty good, I feel good. That’s where I want to keep it.”

“I kept going to [the] hospital and I knew that it [drug use] was the cause of my hospitalization so I decided I’d just quit everything, just walk away from everything,” he added.

Christmas at Jackson’s

“I’m ready for Christmas,” Jackson said with a laugh. His eyes lit up as he turned and pointed to a small paper tree on his table.

He flicked a little switch and tiny LED lights, blue, red, yellow and green start flashing. They illuminated small, wrapped items that Jackson had spread around it.

“This is definitely the most ‘home sweet home’ I’ve ever felt,” he said.

“I’m very thankful that Utah has allowed time for [me] to live a little longer… they came up with this unit for me to sleep in and provide safety for us instead of being out there,” Jackson said, adding, “I just sit here, you know, and be mesmerized by my tree, and I have my presents that people gave me that I can’t wait to open.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Housing + Homelessness

a box of food for food pantries...

Heather Peterson

Food pantries running low due to spike in demand

According to Feeding America, 316,980 people are facing hunger in Utah, and 93,050 are children.

6 hours ago

FILE: A "For sale" sign in front of a home in North Salt Lake on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023....

Curt Gresseth

Utah home prices not likely to fall soon, says real-estate expert

Utah home prices are back up and so are interest rates -- and they will stay high says a Utah real-estate expert.

2 days ago

Homelessness grew by 12% in 2023 from last year, meaning 70,650 more people were unhoused....

Mariah Maynes

No one-size-fits-all solution to help those experiencing homelessness, expert says

Those experiencing homelessness in Utah often are presented with similar options, regardless of their situation. 

4 days ago

A for sale sign is pictured in North Salt Lake on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. A new report on Utah’s e...

Don Brinkerhoff

Expert weighs in on home prices in Utah

Home prices in Utah are staying relatively flat however, fluctuating interest rates are pricing homebuyers out.

4 days ago

People experiencing homelessness walk in the street near a winter overflow shelter at St. Vincent d...

Peter Johnston

Code blue bill would open emergency beds at 18 degrees

The legislature is considering whether to raise the temperature at which emergency beds open up during code blue alerts. 

4 days ago

the front of a homeless shelter, budget plan utah...

Eric Cabrera

Salt Lake business leaders show support for governor’s budget plan to help homeless people in Utah

Leaders who approve of the budget plan said they had seen a huge difference in downtown Salt Lake over the past six months.

10 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

‘Home sweet home’: Life in Salt Lake City’s temporary housing units