I spent a good part of the last two days in a homeless outreach training class at a police station in Salt Lake City. It was really valuable, especially listening to presentations by many of the service providers in downtown Salt Lake.
Every time I am in interagency meetings like this, I experience a mixture of hope for what's possible and a sense of devastation for what actually is.
The shelter in downtown Salt Lake, for example, typically houses more than 700 people a night. More than 700 people they let in, then send out for a few hours in the morning so the place can be cleaned, then again they fill up the next night. Their policy is that if they can squeeze another mat on the floor without breaking fire code, they won't turn a person away. Sometimes the population in the shelter swells to over 1,000.
Every night they are dealing with numbers comparable to the number of people we house in our county jail.
The book I had with me to read during breaks was I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, the outspoken and courageous Pakistani girl who was shot on her way home from school a few years ago. Ironically, the chapters I read yesterday and today describe the mass exodus her family was a part of when the Pakistani military attempted to drive the Taliban out of the Swat Valley where they lived and the horrible flooding they experienced after people returned to their homes in 2009.
The number of people who were displaced during the violent conflict was two million, nearly four times the number of people who live in our entire county.
The number of people who were affected by the flooding, which washed away entire villages and drowned around 2,000, was 14 million. That is more people, Malala says she has heard, than the number of people affected by "the Asian tsunami, [Pakistan's] 2005 earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake combined."
It sure puts what we're up against, which is a huge and ongoing challenge, into some perspective.