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Helping the homeless during COVID-19

John Hansen of Project Empathy stands in Constitution Park in Salt Lake City after checking in with some homeless people he knows. It's been a challenge to help the unsheltered during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Kelli Pierce)

SALT LAKE CITY — John Hansen runs the non-profit Project Empathy in the Salt Lake area helping homeless people and COVID-19 has made it harder to do that.

Hansen and his young son Chase like to talk with homeless people one on one, building a relationship with them and eventually connecting them with services or a job.

But last month the Hansens had to self-quarantine to protect the health of John’s mom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of the individuals that we work with we can’t contact because they don’t have phones. A lot of the work that we’ve done is on TRAX or in different areas of town,” Hansen says.

Despite being cooped up, Hansen still felt the need to help.

“Just saw in downtown [Salt Lake City] that there’s lots and lots of tents down by the Sears building. I know that the county is doing some outreach and Volunteers of America, but I just look at those individuals and wonder what they must be going through,” Hansen says.

He feels the homeless are ultimately looking for meaningful relationships with other people.

“A lot of those individuals just associate with one another or their service providers. Oftentimes, meaningful contact or conversations that are authentic don’t really happen without it being sought out by somebody,” Hansen says.

John Hansen is able to go out and meet the homeless again and feels there is a silver lining to all the COVID-19 restrictions.

“We could have probably never asked for a greater primer for what we’re trying to advocate for, which is how important human connection is for our health and well-being. We got a temporary stay on that capacity to be around each other, at church or at school…I think in the next little bit individuals are going to be hungry for getting back out and developing relationships,” Hansen says.


How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States