This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Corey Wilkerson begins each day by finding an open establishment to sit in while it warms up outside. Some days, he'll leave to work under-the-table jobs the only kind he can get, he said, with no ID. Other days, he panhandles.
The constant in Wilkerson's life: At 11 a.m., he's back for the opening of the Sugar House state liquor store.
That's why he's homeless, Wilkerson said after spending Wednesday night lying on concrete dusted lightly with snow. But not everyone he's met on the streets has the same story.
"Homelessness isn't one-dimensional," Wilkerson said. "It has many facets. There is no one answer."
Wilkerson was among 50 homeless people to complete an extensive "Point in Time" survey administered before dawn Thursday.
The annual count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and organized by the Volunteers of America to quantify the homeless population on a single night, whether in shelters like the one downtown at 210 S. Rio Grande or on the cold pavement next to a chain hamburger joint that Wilkerson prefers as an alternative.
Of the shelter, Wilkerson said: "There's nothing down there but drugs and violence."
This year's count falls in the aftermath of Salt Lake City's selection of sites for four resource-oriented 150-bed homeless shelters that it hopes will bring about the eventual closure of the 1,100-bed emergency shelter at 210 S. Rio Grande.
Rob Wesemann, director of homeless services for the VOA of Utah, said Thursday's teams of caseworkers and volunteers found more unsheltered homeless people on the first day of its annual three-day effort than ever before downtown, especially.
VOA medical outreach director Ed Snoddy said before the groups of three and four set out Thursday that he hoped they would confirm his suspicion that the unsheltered population has increased since last year's count.
In 2016, HUD announced declines in Salt Lake City's overall homeless population (from 2,176 to 1,891) and unsheltered population (from 90 to 57).
Thursday's groups encountered about 100 homeless people in total, though about 50 will need to complete the survey during subsequent sweeps Friday and Saturday mornings.
The VOA also invited homeless youths to drop in at its Youth Resource Center at 888 S. 400 West and received 37 surveys from them. Unsheltered youths have often gone uncounted in previous years, according to the VOA, because they feel unsafe in camps and, when they can't find a couch to sleep on, spend their nights on the streets afoot and wary.
Survey teams gathered around 3:30 a.m. Thursday to chug coffee, chart their routes and load up on socks, blankets, snacks and other offerings from a storeroom. Each team received four $5 gift cards to McDonald's that they could give to survey participants.
A group assigned to Sugar House found bottles and pillows in Fairmont Park pavilion and used their flashlights to track footprints that led into dark corners and crannies. But the only life they detected were ducks huddled at the edge of a pond.
Around 6 a.m. they met Wilkerson and friend Iosefa Johnson outside the Carl's Jr. restaurant on 2100 South.
Volunteer Nikki Africano read off dozens of standardized questions that range from mundane to intimate as both Wilkerson and Johnson gave what appeared to be deeply considered answers.
Steve Sheppard, a psychologist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City, worked in the area behind the Rio Grande shelter along 500 West and found "more people to interview than we had the materials for," but they were all "really nice."
"They seemed appreciative that people were reaching out," he said.
Johnson said he'd taken the survey years before. Now 38, he said he first left home as the 12-year-old son of a U.S. service member stationed overseas and that he's always shied away from the crowds at shelters. He's lived in Sugar House for five years, he said.
Johnson expressed gratitude for hand warmers and a sleeping bag that caseworkers handed him, and he smiled widely after he was allowed to don his sunglasses before a volunteer snapped his photo.
Told it was time for his close-up, Wilkerson deadpanned: "It's freezing. I have snow in my beard."
He sighed for effect. "Go ahead."
Wilkerson, 31, said he's followed news about the four new shelters and that he'd like to see more funding for substance abuse and mental-health treatment.
He's been transported to the hospital by ambulance a half-dozen times in the past six months, he said.
He bled beneath his skull after slipping and tumbling down stairs, broke his kneecap after falling from a fence, contracted pneumonia, coughed up blood and learned he had cirrhosis, and was temporarily blinded in one eye when he was bitten by a brown recluse spider. He was already blind in the other eye.
Most dramatically: Wilkerson said he was on the verge of sleep on the stairwell behind Kimi's Chop & Oyster House when an intoxicated man repeatedly stomped on his head, cracking his skull. He owes his life, he said, to the restaurant's proprietor, who heard the commotion and intervened.
VOA caseworker Machele Nieto said later that Wilkerson has a big heart and is a good candidate for housing.
She scheduled another meeting with him and left him with thermal layers, a large sleeping bag and a request that he kick his habit.
Specifically, his habit of giving away sleeping bags to people he feels are in greater need than him.