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Lawrence Horman walked up to the microphone and said: "I'm homeless. Will you let me speak?"
And for a few minutes, the raucous crowd of nearly 1,000 in Draper did. Residents had heckled and shouted for some three hours Wednesday night about the possibility of a homeless shelter being placed in their city, and when Horman took to the stage they quieted down.
"You don't know all homeless people," he said. "You only hear the horror stories."
But as he urged folks to show patience and understanding for the population, the audience once again began shouting "no" and "boo." Some countered with "bravo." Horman walked off.
"They got after their county and city mayors about not being able to speak on the issue," he told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday. "But they won't let people who are homeless, who are in the situation, speak. I mean, how much of a double standard is that?"
Horman, who has lived in a commercial trailer in Salt Lake County for two years, said the crowd lacked empathy and compassion.
"It was embarrassing for them," he added.
That "Not in My Backyard" attitude has been on display in several public meetings on potential shelter sites in West Valley City and South Salt Lake and certain Salt Lake City neighborhoods though not on the scale of the Draper open house. It may be due, in part, to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Utahns do not know anyone who is currently or has been homeless in the past two years: 79 percent of registered Utah voters say they have no personal affiliation with a homeless individual, according to a new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.
Though some 20 percent of respondents do know someone living on the streets or in a shelter, Mormons and residents with incomes above $50,000 are less likely to know a homeless person.
Just 17 percent of "very active" LDS respondents compared to 25 percent of Catholics, 25 percent of "not active" LDS, 37 percent with "other" religions and 20 percent with no faith affiliation said they had any kind of relation to a homeless individual. In Draper, most residents are Mormon.
Additionally, 16 percent of those who make more than $50,000 and less than $75,000 know someone without housing. The median Draper income is about $95,000.
Those making more than $150,000 represented the smallest group at 14 percent to report knowing a homeless person. Some 30 percent of those with incomes under $15,000 income said they know a homeless person and 40 percent of respondents making between $15,000 to $25,000.
The poll among 605 registered Utah voters was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates March 15-21. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percentage points.
Draper's mayor, Troy Walker, had offered up two spots in city at the soon-to-be-relocated state prison and at 15001 S. Minuteman Drive as county officials ponder where to place a new shelter.
He rescinded the offer one day later as residents at the public meeting railed against him, accused him of political corruption and called for his resignation; Salt Lake County, though, left the sites on the list at least until making his recommendation Friday.
The mayor could not be reached for comment, though he was flushed following Wednesday's meeting and said the offer "came from my heart."
Pamela Atkinson, a longtime homeless advocate, urged residents to remember that no matter the population, the two resource centers to be built in Salt Lake City and the one in Salt Lake County will not look like the area surrounding Rio Grande Street near The Road Home where drug dealers and criminals hide out among and prey upon the population.
The new facilities will offer drug treatment, transportation to job interviews and health assessments, she said, and will be selective about who can participate.
"There are people that with some counseling can start building their self-esteem, get some job skills and eventually move off the streets and out of the shelters," Atkinson said. "And those are the people with potential who would be perfect candidates to be residents at the newly built resource centers … Many of them are very much like us with hopes and dreams and goals of their own."
Atkinson said while most Utahns "are so generous with their giving," just donating money and not connecting with homeless individuals in-person can lead to fears and prejudices, which she suggests were displayed during Wednesday's meeting in Draper.
"I'm not sure why they would boo a homeless man without really knowing his story," she said.
Horman said he became homeless after two divorces and losing "a number of jobs." He currently works as a shuttle driver and funnels the money into an apartment that houses his ex-wife and daughter. He believes most people have a preconceived idea of the homeless population that doesn't accord with reality.
"I've never done drugs. I've never even taken a drink of alcohol in my life. I don't smoke," Horman said. "But their whole picture of being homeless is being drug-addicted and alcohol-addicted."
During his remarks at the Wednesday meeting, Horman spoke about his current landing place: the trailer that sits in an empty lot and connects to a power pole.
"City ordinance, if they knew I was there, they'd throw me out in a heartbeat," he told the audience.
On Thursday morning, Horman said police officers and a city code enforcer came knocking. He fears someone at the meeting clued them in on his hideout.
"Because of this and my willingness to come out and speak on behalf of those who didn't have the ability to, I may end up out of the trailer that I'm living in," he said. "For the moment, they let it go. But I don't know that that's going to be the end of it."
Because he spoke about being homeless he may become more so, losing his small sliver of a shelter. What he wanted people to take away from his talk, though, was the humanity of his situation and those living like him.
"When you take away these homeless resource centers, you take away our chance to get on our own two feet and have what they have," he said. "We want the same things. We're not all drug addicts and alcoholics. We have children. We have families. We have places that we used to call home. We want walls around us and a roof over our head."