ST. GEORGE — Wanting to hear from those facing homelessness while also showing them there is a potential future member of congress who listens to their issues, Democratic congressional candidate Shireen Ghorbani held a town hall meeting Monday at the Switchpoint Community Resource Center.
“We need representatives and people at our federal level who focus on the issues of poverty and homelessness,” Ghorbani said. “Frankly, we just don’t have strong advocates for those living in poverty and living on the edge.”
While Utah is doing well to combat homelessness and poverty, Ghorbani said, overall, she has had many homeless people tell her that they feel “no one is fighting for them.”
Instead of passing policies that help empower the homeless, Congress ends up empowering the rich and corporations instead, she said.
Ghorbani is running for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District against incumbent Republican Rep. Chris Stewart.
Three primary areas that need to be addressed in order to combat homelessness and poverty are having stable jobs and livable wages, having more affordable housing and access to affordable health care, particularly in relation to mental health and addiction recovery.
“This is one of the big challenges facing our community, whether it’s in Salt Lake City or St. George,” Ghorbani said.
Access to affordable health care holds personal importance to Ghorbani as she talked about how her late mother had been diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and the heavy financial toll that created. She also said her father had been an alcoholic with addiction issues who lost his job and home because of it.
Ghorbani’s father would end up checking into a homeless shelter where he was able to access addiction recovery services and “got back on his feet,” she said.
If mental health and addiction recovery services are not made more readily available, then those facing homelessness, as well as those who may find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system, won’t be able to break the cycle they’ve fallen into, Ghorbani said.
As for affordable housing, Ghorbani knew it was an issue in northern Utah, yet hadn’t known it extended to southwest Utah until she started campaigning, she said.
Finding housing for those facing homelessness has been an ongoing issue in St. George and elsewhere as many find rental rates to be beyond their ability to afford.
“There are very few places available to rent, and those that are available are very expensive,” Ghorbani said.
“It’s the same story I hear again and again,” she said. “Affordable housing is a challenge we are facing across the entire state and I don’t see any decisions being made right now that are going to make it better.”
As a way to try to alleviate the issue, Switchpoint has been involved in the creation of the RiverWalk Village project, a 55-unit apartment complex that will offer affordable housing to those who qualify. The project has been in the works since 2016.
Carol Hollowell, Switchpoint’s executive director, said she was happy for the opportunity to host a town hall at the resource center.
“My feeling on the politics is: it’s all about awareness,” Hollowell said, adding that a candidate taking interest in the homeless, as well as helping them know they are as eligible to vote as anyone else, helps them know “that they have worth” and that “their voice counts too.”
There were at least 10 Switchpoint residents sitting among those who attended to town hall meeting, Hollowell said.
Since its opening in late 2014, Switchpoint has sheltered an estimated 4,100 individuals. As for how many people have been able to take advantage of Switchpoint’s services, Hollowell said is that estimate is about 14,000.
Ghorbani and her campaign staff toured Switchpoint during a stop in St. George over the summer.
Monday’s visit to Switchpoint brought a close to a series of town hall meetings held by Ghorbani’s campaign. Previous town halls tackled the issues of education, health care and criminal justice reform.
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