SALT LAKE CITY – Justin Ward never expected to call Salt Lake City home. He never imagined he would ever be in a homeless shelter.
But a few years ago, the longtime truck driver and a friend were traveling from Minnesota to Las Vegas.
“[My friend] had us jobs lined up in Las Vegas, and his car broke down. His parents flew him back up to Minnesota. I got stuck here and ended up becoming homeless for two-and-a-half years,” Ward remembered.
Because he did not have enough money for a long hotel stay, Ward ended up in a homeless shelter.
He says many people were nice, but others did drugs or fought with one another. One friend of his was stabbed six times.
Ward was actively looking for another job. But he feels the shelter was not structured to help people in their job searches.
Often, he would have to choose between having a bed for the night or going to an interview.
“When I was there [in the shelter], you had to be in line between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. to get a bed. And that process would take until 12:00, 1:00 in the afternoon. So, that process took up a lot of the prime time in looking for work,” Ward said.
And there was another problem if he did get an interview: the shelter required people to take all their belongings with them when they left.
“Employers don’t want to see somebody who’s homeless bringing all their stuff in with them to do an interview because they get all these negative stereotypes…Thinking, ‘Oh my! What are we getting into if we hire this guy?'” Ward said.
It was also difficult to get a nice set of clothes or take a shower before showing up to a job interview.
Ward eventually had two heart attacks in the shelter, making him medically unable to get a trucking job.
He now has an apartment and lives on Social Security.
Ward also advocates for homeless people in the Salt Lake area, like encouraging the hiring of more caseworkers and the building of affordable housing.
But he also wants the public to treat the homeless as people.
“Get involved with folks that maybe you see on the streets. Engage in conversation with them. Look them in the eyes and acknowledge them. I think all folks have that genuine desire to feel like they’re accepted. To feel part of the community,” Ward said.
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