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Mental Health Advocate Brings Lived Experience With Homelessness To Utah Council

A photo of homeless tents on a sidewalk.
Emily Means
The Utah Homelessness Council will make decisions about statewide strategies to address the issue.

Gov. Spencer Cox appointed four voting members to the Utah Homelessness Council this week.

The new group stems from a law passed this year meant to streamline Utah’s efforts to address the issue.

It has 27 members, including Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and philanthropist and business leader Gail Miller.

Brian Higgins brings a unique perspective to the group. He spent 18 months in Utah without permanent housing.

“It really came about due to my mental health issues,” Higgins said. “Everything just got so bad, and literally I became homeless overnight. It was certainly something that I wasn't expecting, and I really didn't know what to do. I didn't know the resources available.”

The council is tasked with approving a services budget and creating a strategic plan to address the problem.

Higgins, a filmmaker and comedian, now runs a nonprofit focused on ending the stigma around mental health issues through creativity.

He suggested a three-pronged approach to addressing homelessness that mirrors storytelling — one that has a beginning, middle and end.

“Stop it before it starts,” he said. “Help people who are in it, and then … once people move through and find themselves in a more stable environment, how do we keep people there? How do we stop people sliding back into difficulties?”

For Higgins, his goal is to demonstrate the humanity of people who are unhoused and struggling with mental illness to the council.

“Really what we should be doing as a public and a community is awareness, paying attention and listening. Asking people, ‘How can I help you?’” he said. “My part on the council is going to come from that standpoint.”

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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