I will begin by thanking all the committee members in attendance here today, for allowing me to be a part of what is one of the many crucial and consequential discussions we will be having this legislative session, and surely will be continuing to have for many years to come. My statement will attempt to be brief as to afford the same privilege to other citizens in attendance eager to address this committee, offering their hearts and minds as I do now. I will offer my official transcript to be submitted for the record as well as to each member of the committee.
My name is Ryan James Parker, and I am a Client Advocate. I have the privilege of serving those experiencing homelessness, and the honor of being employed at The Road Home Emergency Resource Center on Rio Grande Street in Downtown Salt Lake City. I will not be speaking on behalf of The Road Home, I do not represent it's Administration, Staff, nor Shelter The Homeless Board, our agency partners, or contributors. I am speaking on behalf of myself as a provider to over 700 men and women whose backgrounds comprise of the most extraordinarily diverse demographics our illustrious communities have to offer. These citizens are residents of this neighborhood whom are directly impacted by the policies set before us here today. I have been entrusted with the sacred privilege of vocalizing the concerns surrounding these initiatives, many of which are shared sentiments by this beautiful culmination of people.
This neighborhood has gone thru a dramatic transformation in the last several months, preceded by years of increasing suffering, desperation, and exploitation in this forgotten community. I want to thank our legislative body for acknowledging the humanitarian crisis we have been facing on our own for far too long.
We thank you for remembering that public safety is as important on Rio Grande as it is in Daybreak. We thank UHP for their support of the Salt Lake City Police Department, all who recognize the responsibility of community policing among a population that is distrusting, weary, terrified, and traumatized by past encounters of injustice. We must ensure in supporting our law enforcement presence we provide ample means to maintain the integrity of their positions, and safeguard against unintended consequences of enforcing erroneous policy actions. We must ensure the constitutional protections, and rights to due process as described in our 4th amendment which are afforded to citizens of Rio Grande as much as they are afforded to those in Sandy. We must continue to disrupt the activities of exploitation in the forms of narcotics trafficking, sexual predation, violence and intimidation. As well as ensuring human dignity and compassion acknowledging that the vicious cycle of poverty does not simply transcribe in black and white but in a sea of gray. We must err on the side of caution to be forever vigilant, and understanding that not everything is as it appears, and that everyone has a story. That with little to know access of social integration, and opportunity we can be just as responsible for the disabled immigrant illegally selling prescription drugs as we are for the young mother fleeing from domestic abuse who is purchasing the drugs from him.
We must ensure the continued access to treatment for those coping with mental illness, and we must ensure that treatment options are broad serving all ailments across the board. We must ensure that we supplement all treatment options, to remember that substance abuse is an effect not a cause of mental illness. Self-medication is the direct result of ever increasing prescription drug prices, and high deductibles of costly health insurance. We must be mindful of the arduous process of recovery, the long journey that starts pre-treatment, and post-treatment such as Mayor Ben McAdams Sober Living Scholarships. To return a struggling individual to the same community with no support system is irresponsible at best. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. We are in it for the long haul. We must ensure that we establish a coalition of providers as far as Utah County and beyond to avoid the burdensome responsibility of a few facilities to provide services to a booming population, for substance abuse impacts all neighborhoods in our state. A blessing and burden which The Road Home understands all to well.
We must continue our efforts to providing employment opportunities, efforts for many years have been championed by the Weigand Center and Catholic Community Services. We must ensure that these employment opportunities are as diverse as our population. That bonding programs, transportation assistance, and union advancements can be afforded to many clients who have years of educational and trade experiences that are overshadowed by past misfortunes, and breaks of social contracts. Dignity of Employment comes the acknowledgment that every citizen is of worth today regardless of yesterday. We can no longer hold our marginalized communities to inappropriate standards, continuously being our own barriers to integration. We can no longer ask these beautiful souls to forever carry their scarlet letter of human error.
We must ensure with the dignity of constitutional adherence, dignity of competent treatment access, and dignity of employment is all followed by dignity of tenancy. Affordable Housing has become established as the endgame, in a multi-level bipartisan fashion. This is a sigh of relief to providers and communities victim of Gentrification, wage stagnation, and rent inflation. Marty Bloustein and Utah Legal Services in 2016 led the charge in reforming the Judicial rule 26.3 requiring “Factual Basis for Eviction” protecting tenants from frivolous claims by property managers. Utah is still regarded as a landlord-friendly state, it's this body's responsibility to acknowledge the harsh truth that while Utah ranks 35th in affordable housing per capita, with the United States most vibrant economy we must reform this balance of landlord/tenant provisions, alongside the abundance of units and reevaluating what we consider “Affordable”. We can no longer afford to cherry-pick our poverty. Systemic issues, require Systemic Changes be made.
While this collective focuses on Operation Rio Grande I implore the willingness to understand that to concentrate this discussion on 2 square blocks is to commit a disservice of the entire state of affairs. I struggle everyday to keep my head above the endless and ever growing tide of wave after wave after wave of our states misplaced, and abandoned. Salt Lake City may just be the 38th largest city in the U.S, yet the Wasatch Front from Tremonton to Payson is the 8th largest urban corridor in the nation. The Road Home, CCS, VOA, Valley, 4th Street we don't solely serve the city's population experiencing homelessness. We serve the State's citizens on trapped in poverty.
In closing we must continue our efforts, as well as acknowledge how are they to be measured. If our focus is a pleasant shopping experience, and not the 116 sons, fathers, mothers, daughters, grandparents, veterans, and refugees who passed away on our streets last year then what are we really fighting to change? Our commitment to local businesses must be matched by our commitment to the elderly. We must overcome our implicit biases, and differences to capture the spirit which is of community. We must begin by adapting with our population experiencing homelessness, and stop reacting.
Adapting is the embodiment of services at The Road Home. I must learn how to adapt. I carry with me a form being an authorized 3rd party by DWS to administer and monitor entrance in your “Safe Space”. I must overcome my disagreements of a public thoroughfare being used to track and count citizens eroding their protections of privacy and anonymity, for the greater good of my continuing commitment to serve them. This wasn't in my job description, but yet I adapt because my commitment to our people is greater than the commitment to my political incantations. This body can continue to adapt by continuing to provide aide to our desperate fight. We must match our resolve to law enforcement, to our commitment of housing. I regularly check in over 200 women experiencing homelessness, and do you know how many case managers I have? One. I regularly check in over 450 men experiencing homelessness, do you know how many case managers I have? One. We our out manned and outgunned, we need more firepower. We and so many like us are destined to succeed, but our bureaucracies our built to fail. Even through the endless onslaught of media and political opprobrium we still stand and we continue to serve! When detractors revel in our perceived failures, we continue to sweep up the broken pieces in which they sent them to us!
We don't stand for grandstanding and posturing, and we are unmoved by the self-righteous pontificating. We our moved by children who mend hats and pass them out on 5th West. We our moved by the Health Department offering free flu shots, we our moved by barbers, and volunteers who come to draw and read to our children in Midvale. We don't value tax cuts, we value clean socks. We know that when Rio Grande succeeds, we all do.
Our model of success does not solely pertain to our clients inflicted with mental illness and/or substance abuse. It does not solely measure our SSVF Veterans Housing program, or our Housing Not Jails program. It is measured for the day that no one is left out in the cold. For the day when a person doesn't stumble in our doors wearing nothing but a hospital gown. The day where this staff member doesn't have to perform CPR on a client I know has passed, but continues anyway because that is what we came here to do.
The Road Home will still be here, splitting our last mite with those who in the Winter storm of life lost their way. Shining in the dark that Universal light of liberty. Standing at the door reciting Give me your tired, you poor, your huddled masses. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send those the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me! I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door! We will always be here to lift the lamp, I ask only that you make sure the door can be opened!
Sincerely, Ryan James Parker