Clay Boss’ bad luck started in 2010 after he suffered a bad accident that left him unable to keep working as a truck driver.
He later became overwhelmed with medical bills and went to prison for five years after being convicted of extortion.
Boss was released from prison in November 2017 with nowhere to go. And to make things worse, his health was deteriorating.
But then, the INN Between, a hospice center for the homeless, stepped in and offered him a place to where he could recover after a recent amputation and heart attack.
The 56-year-old told hundreds of people gathered at Pioneer Park on Thursday that in seven months since he arrived at the INN Between, he’s had more amputations and more heart attacks.
“I am fortunate to have a bed, a home and, more importantly, a support system. Sadly this isn’t the case for everyone,” Boss said.
Boss said he has seen friends who are also homeless die this year. They are among the more than 100 people died in Salt Lake City this year while experiencing homelessness or after having been homeless.
Of the 121 people who honored at the annual Homeless Persons’ Candlelight Vigil, six of them died after last year’s vigil. The youngest among them was 20 years old, according to homeless advocates. The oldest was 80.
The event was put on by groups that work with the homeless population such as The Road Home, the Other Side Academy, the INN Between and Volunteers of America, Utah.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment survey estimates that there was a total of 2,876 homeless people in Utah this year. That’s a slight increase from last year.
The survey also found that Utah was one of the five states where the number of homeless veterans has been increasing since 2009. Seventeen veterans were part of the names read last night.
The vigil comes after a state audit concluded that there was not enough data to determine if resources across the state are effective at helping people secure housing.
“We found that Utah’s homeless services system still lacks clear goals and objectives and continues to have difficulty measuring the results of the services it provides,” the audit states.
Homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson said statistics show that homeless people tend to live shorter lives than people with housing.
“This year, the average age of those 121 individuals that passed away this year is 53. This is really unacceptable,” Atkinson said.
Being homeless is hard, Boss said, but being homeless and ill is “unbearable.”
“Something simple can quickly turn life-threatening,” he said. “Everything is heightened, every pain more intense. Getting medication is difficult, but keeping it is even harder.”
Getting to doctor’s appointments and keeping wounds clean are also challenging, he said.
Homeless advocates said they hope that the three new homeless resource centers under construction in Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake will make a difference for this population. They will replace The Road Home shelter which came under fire after investigation found evidence of drug use within the shelter.
The Rev. Jay Ragsdale with the Calvary Baptist Church remembers that the problem was visible on Rio Grande Street where the shelter is located. He said it was previously a hot spot for crime and drugs. But today, he thinks the situation is calmer and the streets are a lot cleaner.
That might be due to an effort to crack down on violence and drug around the shelter known as Operation Rio Grande.
Ragsdale urged the vigil’s attendees to help with their effort to end homelessness. Ragsdale said if each person helped at least one other person, “this world would be in better shape than what it is right now.”