Spring flooding is yet another challenge facing Utah’s unhoused
Utah's spring runoff season is already threatening homes, neighborhoods and parks due to rising water levels. Gov. Spencer Cox declared a state of emergency as flood risk persists and Utah’s deep snowpack continues to melt.
The concern doesn’t stop with homeowners or renters. Homeless advocates and people in the unhoused community are also worried about the destruction pending floods could cause.
In Utah County, despite an increasing homeless population, there isn’t an overnight homeless shelter. The unhoused have already been dealt a brutal winter with a barrage of storms and numerous nights of freezing temperatures.
Gregory Cassingham has a part-time job and is working toward a more permanent solution for housing. For the time being, he lives in a tent near the wetlands on the border of Provo and Springville.
While he hasn’t experienced flooding yet, it is a concern as nearby tents have.
“Some of the guys I've talked to have experienced flooding.”
He fears having his belongings drenched in flood waters.
“Mostly clothes to our sleeping bags and stuff like that. I have a few electronics and stuff, but I keep pretty well safe,” Cassingham said.
He would also rather not have to relocate again: “I've been moved actually three times.”
The Mountainland Continuum of Care provides homeless resources in Utah County and is monitoring the flooding situation as well as visiting encampments in low-lying, flood-prone areas. Project coordinator Heather Hogue said outreach teams are double-checking to make sure encampments are not in the pathway of oncoming floods, and determining what needs to be done in case they are.
“We do have plans in place if there are evacuation efforts that need to be done. You know, this is something that we can provide support with by way of hotel, motel vouchers, transportation to get people and their belongings to a place of safety and security,” Hogue said.
These concerns span further than one county. Wendy Garvin, executive director for
Unsheltered Utah, said a request has been put in with the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness to extend winter overflow shelter services as encampments near the Jordan River could be flooded.
“The shelters have been absolutely full all winter long, which to me is an indication that people want to be there. But they are closing all of those overflow beds, which is almost 600 beds in order to do so because their overflow budget is ending,” Garvin said.
Many of the winter overflow shelters are set to close around the beginning of May.
So far, only about 10% of Utah’s snowpack has melted. About 27 inches of the statewide snowpack have yet to melt, which means the majority of spring runoff has yet to happen.
For Cassingham, his tent is still dry and intact, but he would take comfort in knowing other options are available.
“Just if there was someplace that we could go, at least temporarily, you know, until we get relocated,” Cassingham said.
Heather Hogue said it’s critical for the Continuum of Care and street outreach teams to make sure that people are in a place where they feel safe and secure and the outreach teams can respond to a crisis as they arise.
“You know, when you're experiencing literal homelessness, having dry clothes and dry blankets is pretty critical, especially with the cold temperatures we've been having this spring. We recognize those necessities as being paramount. We're not going to let anybody suffer.”