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Sent on Mormon-News: 06Feb02
By Paul Carter
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Salt Lake City to Shelter the Homeless during Olympics

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The Los Angeles Times reports that Salt Lake City is experiencing an increase in homeless persons due to the coming Olympics, in part because some motel owners are forcing out weekly and monthly renters to get higher room rates from event attendees. The city has planned for such an increase by adding a 450-bed emergency shelter and providing increased meal services.

"We think we're going to be the first Olympics city to be prepared to handle the homeless," says Sheila Walsh-McDonald, chairwoman of the Salt Lake County Homeless Council.

With it's sometimes punishing winters, Salt Lake is not known to have a large homeless population. In addition to the cold weather, Utah's reputation for stingy welfare and the teachings of the LDS church that its members should be self-reliant work to keep the number of homeless in the state low.

There have been some unemployed and under-employed construction workers who have arrived recently, still expecting to find work helping with the Olympic venues. There are individuals who have been displaced from jobs affected by reductions in tourist revenue this Fall. These, combined with long-term motel renters who have been forced out of their rooms, are expected to increase the homeless population by about 20%.

The sight of transients huddled against the cold during the glitz of the Olympics could easily blemish the massive positive image building that has taken place in Salt Lake Citypreparation for the Games. Instead, the compassionate efforts and foresight of many Salt Lake area agencies are adding to the sense that these Olympics have been prepared for quite well.

Robert Aldrich is 45 and lost his job at a Park City hotel this past Fall. He currently sleeps in his car. While standing in the lunch line at the Salt Lake St. Vincent de Paul shelter, he gushed, "This town is a piece of cake to be homeless in. We're almost coddled. I'm getting three meals a day, and I could get six if I wanted. There aren't any skinny homeless people in Salt Lake."

His exuberance at being homeless in Salt Lake City isn't shared by all, however. Lynette Phillipsen arrived from Arizona recently and is currently at the Road House, the largest shelter in the Salt Lake area. She offered her perspective, saying, "I think it's cruel, the way the homeless are treated here, The shelters don't have kitchen facilities, and to eat you're treated like cattle--coming in two at a time."

Still, significant resources are being marshalled to meet the increased needs, which are expected to be temporary. 250 Americorps volunteers have been transferred to Salt Lake City to help. The Salvation Army is doubling nightly meal service from its usual high of 500 to be prepared to serve up to 1000 meals nightly. (It is the Salvation Army's hall where residents at the new 450-bed Salt Lake City facility will be fed.)

Says Wayne Froderberg, a major with the Salvation Army, "We anticipate a lot more people who need assistance will be coming to town during the Games. We have a compassionate network of providers. We want to be good hosts to all who come here."

A committee for humanitarian work of the Hilton hotel chain has been working with vendors who provide box lunches to Olympic athletes, volunteers and others at the Olympic venues. A system is in place to return any unopened lunches to be distributed each day to the soup kitchens in the area.

Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson has stated, "We respect the human and civil rights of everyone, including the homeless, during these Olympics. We won't be doing roundups or anything like that. This community is very caring toward the homeless."

No complaints of homeless people being mistreated have been reported by the ACLU, thus far. The efforts of Salt Lake City stand is stark contrast to the widely reported arrests of the homeless and offers of free, one-way bus tickets out of Atlanta prior to the Summer games there in 1996.


Olympian Effort to Handle Homeless
Los Angeles Times 31Jan02 T4
By Tom Gorman: Times Staff Writer
Social services: As the Games swell the ranks of the unfortunate, Utah makes an unusual effort to care for them.


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