IN FOCUS Discussion: Utahns living in vehicles

In Focus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Currently in the state of Utah, there’s no collective data on vehicle residents, which are people who are living in their cars, vans, or RVs. However, local advocates who work with our unsheltered population say they’re seeing a growing number of people who are living out of their car. They believe some of the reasons include the skyrocketing prices of housing in the area and the residual impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, which uprooted many people’s livelihoods.

Vehicle residents can come from all walks of life — encompassing different age groups, backgrounds, ethnicities, societal status, abilities, and more. However, they can become extremely hard to track because they move around so much and their living situations are so fluid. Some unsheltered people prefer living in their cars over a shelter or an encampment because of the autonomy, privacy, and protection from the elements. During the pandemic, vehicles provided a more ideal environment for isolating from large gatherings and avoiding the risk of infection.

Many of these vehicle residents don’t have running water or electrical hookups. There are no designated areas for vehicle residents to park their cars, vans, or RVs. Often times, these people stay in one area for as long as they can before being cited and end up moving to a new location. In Utah’s extreme seasons, such as the peak of summer with the scorching heat or the middle of winter with freezing temperatures, vehicle residents are often vulnerable to weather-related illnesses. They are also at-risk to crime, such as theft, burglary, harassment, and assault.

ABC4 News recently published a number of reports about vehicle residents in the past few months, some of whom have been suffering in the heat wave without air conditioning. Others have been the center of complaints to the city and law enforcement by residents and business owners in the area, who say they’ve seen an increase in drug use, crime, and trash. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s office said they will not impound any vehicles are occupied, leaving these neighbors frustrated and asking for a better solution in responding to the state’s homeless crisis.

Wendy Garvin and Nathan Kazerian joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion about vehicle residents. Garvin is the executive director of Unsheltered Utah and Kazerian, who is a former vehicle resident and unsheltered resident, is the organization’s vice president. They talked about Nathan’s experience with being unsheltered, the variety in living situations for unsheltered individuals, how they find vehicle residents, the difficulties in registering vehicles, where these residents park, the impact of the exploding housing market, how to minimize tension between residential neighbors and vehicle residents, and what can be done to provide better opportunities to this population.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Garvin and Kazerian, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.

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