As of January 2020, around 3,100 people in Utah were experiencing homelessness, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Between 13–16% of that homeless population is within Weber County, according to a report by Weber Housing Authority in 2019.
The World Population Review states the current population of Ogden is around 89,000, with an average rise of 0.65% annually. With the rising population of Ogden, the homeless population continues to accelerate as well, which the report suggested could be due to Operation Rio Grande in Salt Lake City.
Unhoused individuals find shelter either on the streets or within local homeless shelters. One of those shelters is the Ogden Rescue Mission, which is a non-denominational Christian organization that contains 97 beds with a free clinic and chapel service.
Judy Doud, director of the rescue mission, explained the New Life program is centered around a Christian curriculum and the way things work. In the mornings, everyone has breakfast and then attends Bible study.
Recovery class is around noon, and guests are assigned a chore afterward, whether it be kitchen or lawn work. Rehab class is last on the list; these classes contain Christian teachings as well. Dinner is also served openly every night at 6 p.m., 365 days a year. Doud also voiced how there are people who come in not wanting to take the program and end up just staying for a limited time unless they participate.
“If they’re tired of being homeless or wanting something more in life, we ask them to accept Jesus Christ into their lives and to have a more positive outlook on life,” Doud said.
Doud stated that a lot of people come in with drug or alcohol problems. There are programs similar to AA meetings to help them overcome these addictions. After they begin the process, guests are assigned a dorm.
One individual in particular, now back on her feet and working for the Ogden Rescue Mission, is Eddrena Loveland. She said that before her experience with homelessness, she was a married truck driver with a handful of bad influences surrounding her.
Loveland is a mother of three who experienced homelessness for a year after leaving her abusive husband. She was an addict and slept in motels around town while working during the days.
Loveland said she stumbled upon the rescue mission one night around 2 a.m., drunk and high. Doud took her in and she ended up staying the night.
“I tried to leave the next morning but was very inclined to change my life; I’ve been here ever since, for the past 19 months,” Loveland said.
Thirteen of those 19 months were spent in the programs Loveland needed to recover. She now works in the front office and is attending school to become a drugs and alcohol abuse counselor.
Another shelter within Ogden, the Lantern House, also provides a safe haven for these individuals.
“We exist to provide safe secure shelter and food to the low income and homeless population in Utah,” Executive Director Lauren Navidomskis said.
This facility is the largest in the state of Utah, with 330 beds and emergency shelter all year round. Three hot meals are served daily, or 125,000 meals annually, to anybody that is in need in the community. Guests are encouraged to participate in the shelter program that services 2,200 people annually.
The shelter also receives funding for the programs and essential services. These funds help individuals obtain housing opportunities, birth certificates or anything else that may help to get them back on their feet.
An aftercare program is available when an individual moves out. A caseworker visits and checks in consistently to make sure the individual is staying on track with daily life.
Navidomskis explained that drugs and alcohol are actually not the main cause of homelessness in many cases she sees.
“Instead, it is mental illness that is then followed by addiction for coping and escapism,” she stated.
Many individuals working to provide for those experiencing homelessness, such as Doud and Navidomskis, want more people to understand that homelessness can be caused by a number of situations and not just drug or alcohol abuse. These situations could include job loss, lack of income to afford what they were living in, divorce, eviction, addictions, mental health and victims of domestic violence.
Doud stated there is an influx of people seeking shelter around the winter months and Navidomskis relayed that she sees a surge during the months of August, with spikes in February and March. Both shelters said there are more people in need during the colder months than at any other time of the year.
The pandemic has also had a substantial impact on the homeless rates within the community. The Ogden Rescue Mission shut down during the height of COVID-19 for safety reasons due to an influx of unhealthy people.
The rescue mission has re-opened since May 2021. The Lantern House stayed open to the public, but adjusted many of its protocols to follow CDC guidelines.
Navidomskis explained that despite clients being tested regularly, there was an outbreak in the facility in October 2020.
“In a matter of 48 hours, there were 47 positive clients, with four of them passing away another 48 hours after,” she said. “We felt very helpless, but were able to have help from the county to have medical staff stay here overnight to make sure it didn’t continue.”
Both of these shelters, along with many others in Utah, are nonprofit organizations and encourage people to sign up for volunteer help. Donations are also open and accepted 24/7 from the community.