The Hidden Killer

The homeless population in Salt Lake are being killed, but is a serial killer really to blame?

“This reporting is patently false…It invokes fear. …There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest there is a serial killer in Salt Lake City.” SLCPD released this statement regarding Utah Stories’ article about a possible homeless serial killer in Salt Lake City. Many news outlets have published articles on this issue, all alluding to the fact that it is a serial killer at fault. While many believe that is the case, recent research into the deaths of the individuals suggest it is instead the failings of the government and the housing crisis to blame. 

The homeless population of Salt Lake City has increased significantly since 2020 to 2022, almost 7% in total.  In 2022, it is estimated that around 159 homeless people died on the streets. There were likely many more deaths but the problem with gauging the crisis is many of the people go unrecognized and unknown. 

Throughout 2022, several bodies were found in the Jordan River, which is known to house several homeless communities. After the bodies were found, there was no evidence to suggest foul play. This led the police to not investigate further. The SLCPD released another statement addressing this case in early July. “There has only been one body found near the Jordan River in the past two weeks, but there was no foul play detected in the death of the individual.” Foul play means the unlawful and possibly suspicious manner of death the victim was found in. While a serial killer is possible, it is not likely. Rather, it is most likely the unfavorable conditions that homeless people have to live in. Many are quick to blame the deaths on something more dramatic. 

Many deaths are associated with starvation, dehydration, overdose, fights, or simply the elements. It is difficult to know if there is a killer at fault but it is nearly impossible for one person to be responsible for all deaths. 

Living conditions for the homeless are incredibly difficult and many are dying simply from the elements.  Just last year, five people froze to death while living on the streets in Salt Lake City. Due to these deaths the community responded with a vigil, honoring all homeless who died in 2022. On the 21st of December 2022, there was a vigil held for all those who passed away while dealing with homelessness. It gathered many people together to remember the lives lost in the harsh conditions of poverty. 

In December of 2020, the average median price for a home in Salt Lake City was $415,600. In December of 2022 the price shot up to $514,200. That is almost a $100,000 difference. From July of 2022 there has been a steady decrease of homes being purchased so it’s just becoming harder and harder for people to afford homes. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City is $1,112 in 2022. They are able to charge this much even while average weekly wages in the first quarter of 2022 was $1,152. 

People are constantly struggling to make ends meet, many working eight hours a day but only receiving minimum wage. A full time minimum wage worker will only receive $290 over the course of a 40 hour week in Utah. There is no way for them to afford rent, let alone a home. 

There are many resources for those struggling with homelessness in Salt Lake, many shelters are in place but still it seems to not be enough for the ever growing number of homeless people. Clinics, Shelters, Homes, and other options are available. Yet, it still does not suffice for the sheer amount of people on the streets because of lack of affordability of homes and availability of jobs. Many people simply can’t afford it, or don’t trust the system. For many it can be a benefit but for others not so much. 

In December of 2022, the Biden-Harris administration enacted a plan to prevent and end homelessness by 2025. Within the plan it relies on the State and Local government to use funds from the government to enact helpful resources. But just how well will this plan work? Just how much can we get done in two years with inflation and prices continuing to go up? 

In Salt Lake waitlists for many homes still remain long and ominous. Shelters still only have limited capacity so really how much can we do in order to eliminate the problem completely. Many people find the centers unwelcoming and many homeless are skeptical of just how much it can help them. Deseret News depicts this by stating, “I believe it’s mistrust. Jurisdictions pointing fingers, not lifting up solutions, or identifying ideas and responsibilities.” They depict the idea that this is just no real person to ask for help from. So rather than reaching out for help many just accept the situation they are in. Many people continue to suffer on the streets because it is what’s known to them, they don’t have the motivation to try to improve their situation especially when there isn’t a guarantee for it to get better. 

What Salt Lake City needs is a more reliable system for the homeless to offer help in a welcoming and easy way. One that doesn’t have special requirements and restrictions, one that accepts the fact that everyone deserves the basic necessities of human life. 

With a continuing increase of people living on the streets and housing prices continuing to go up, there must be something done. Rather than assuming the fact that people are dying on the streets because of a killer, we should instead look at the reason people are living on the streets in the first place. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with homelessness you can find assistance on: