Battling it out on the streets: Salt Lake’s homeless

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Originally from New Jersey, Kevin Tetreault was attending a Bible college in California at the age of 17 when he received the news his mother passed away.

Right then, Tetreault  made a choice that altered his path of life from the majority of those around him. Leaving behind school and shelter, he set out east in an attempt to hitch-hike his way back to familiar territory.

He made it as far as Salt Lake and now, 28 years later, with a grey beard and a sun-taxed face, Tetrault has yet to make it home — or any home.

[easyembed field=”Photogallery”]As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune last fall, Utah’s rates of homelessness have increased nearly 50 percent since 2008 — including homelessness among Utah’s youth.

However, statistics is only one side of the story; a qualitative look at the situation revealed a myriad of scenarios and lifestyles among the homeless.

From wealth to destitution

Brett “Maverick” Burnside, though an occupant at a shelter, explained his life as one from a state of wealth to destitution.

“I’ve been a millionaire and I’ve been homeless,” Burnside said, not offering any further explanation on the specific nature of that turnaround.

Furthermore, while Tetreault has been without family longer than with during his life, Burnside has been married and is the father of two daughters, one of whom lives in Salt Lake and visits with her father on a weekly basis.

Nor is this Burnside’s first bout of homelessness; rather, it’s his fourth experience living on the streets though each time, he said, is only for a matter of months.

As for the different circumstances that drove him from a home, Burnside sited a divorce and losing his job on two different occasions. A fourth time he was working as a cook at a local restaurant but simply wasn’t making ends meet.

A third intimate look at a homeless individual revealed the source of homelessness as illness. Bone marrow cancer and the harsh treatments stripped Chris, who asked not to share his last name, of his memory and lifestyle.

From streets to hope

Among these tragic stories, however, are threads of hope. Don Hill is one of those threads.

Pushed to the streets by his drug addiction, Hill found refuge at the Rescue Mission House in downtown Salt Lake where he enlisted in a rehabilitation program.

Chris Croswhite is the pastor-turned director of the Mission Home where, he said, the goal at curing homelessness is one that deals with root causes be they anger management, drug abuse or simply a lack of basic skills normally taught in the home.

First, Hill went through drug detox before he was slowly introduced into maintaining a job. Hill then went on to intern in the Mission Home’s offices and today, nearly eight years from enrolling in the program, Hill is a full-time employee and Croswhite’s right hand man.

Hill is not the only success story; in fact, both Croswhite and Hill think fondly of a couple that met in the program and today have a home and a baby.

Despite this progress, however, Croswhite points to a number of troubling trends including more intact families ending up on the street as well as a rise in individuals finding themselves homeless for the first time in their lives.

Croswhite said he will often get calls from individuals explaining that they are about to be evicted and requesting a reservation starting on a certain night.

“There are no such things as reservations — you just show up,” Croswhite said, emphasizing they have seen everyone from high school drop outs to PhD holders come and stay at the shelter.

As far as what the general public can do to assist in the cause of helping individuals off the street, Croswhite said, “We encourage people not to give money to pan handlers but to invest it in professional services offering professional care to those in need.”

He then added, “and treat them with dignity.”

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