IN FOCUS Discussion: Utahns living in vehicles
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – There is currently no collective data in the state of Utah about vehicle residents, that is, people who live in their cars, vans, or RVs. However, local advocates working with our vulnerable population say they are seeing a growing number of people making a living from their car. They believe some of the reasons are skyrocketing property prices in the area and the remaining effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has uprooted many people’s livelihoods.
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Vehicle residents can come from all walks of life – with different age groups, backgrounds, ethnicities, social status, skills and more. However, they can be extremely difficult to track because they move around so much and their life situations are so fluid. Some people without protection prefer to live in their car rather than in a shelter or camp because of their autonomy, privacy, and protection from the elements. During the pandemic, vehicles provided a more ideal environment to isolate yourself from large gatherings and avoid the risk of infection.
NEXT: Vehicle residents: who are they?
Many of these vehicle occupants have neither running water nor electricity connections. There are no designated areas for vehicle residents to park their cars, vans, or RVs. Often times, these people stay in an area for as long as possible before being cited and eventually moving to a new location. In Utah’s extreme seasons, such as high summer with scorching heat or mid-winter with freezing temperatures, vehicle residents are often prone to weather-related illnesses. They are also prone to crime such as theft, burglary, harassment, and assault.
MORE: ‘Sick of the heat’: SLC street campers sweat without air conditioning during the heat wave
ABC4 News recently published a number of reports in the past few months about vehicle residents who suffered from the heat wave, some without air conditioning. Others have been the center of complaints to the city and law enforcement agencies from residents and business owners in the area, who say drug use, crime and trash have increased. Salt Lake City Mayor’s office Erin Mendenhall said she will not seize occupied vehicles, frustrating these neighbors and asking for a better solution to responding to the state’s homeless crisis.
MORE: “Horrend”: Street camping in the industrial area of Salt Lake City leads to garbage piles
Wendy Garvin and Nathan Kazerian caught up with Rosie Nguyen from ABC4 on CW30 News at 7pm for an IN FOCUS discussion about vehicle occupants. Garvin is the executive director of Unsheltered Utah and Kazerian, a former vehicle owner and unprotected resident, is the organization’s vice president. They talked about Nathan’s experiences with unshielded living, the variety of living situations for unshielded people, how they find vehicle residents, the difficulties in registering vehicles where these residents park, the effects of the exploding housing market, how to minimize tension between neighbors and vehicle residents and what can be done to provide better opportunities for this population.
To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Garvin and Kazerian, click the video at the top of the article.
Catch IN FOCUS discussions with Rosie Nguyen of ABC4 on weekdays on the 7pm CW30 news
Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, at 7 p.m., she started a new trip as a presenter for CW30 News. She continues her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.