Skip to Content

Inside the newsroom: This race is a marathon, and that's not good enough

SALT LAKE CITY — When Des Linden pulled away during the last few miles of last year's Boston Marathon she had already endured cold, pounding rain and wind that did in other more elite runners — those expected to find victory.

Mile after mile she persevered, finally breaking the tape in a race that had often left her among the top performers, but never first to cross the finish line. Life is like that, say the philosophers — a marathon, not a sprint — and victory often goes to the one who can put up with setbacks and harsh conditions as they put one foot in front of the other, finally gaining something elusive at the end of the long race.

"If it hadn't been difficult I don't think it would mean as much," she said in the post-race press conference, after crossing the finish line as the first American woman in 33 years to win the race.

In a different setting months later, seeming dark clouds and rain also fell on homeless advocates when the Utah Legislature failed to appropriate the $24 million that was sought to seed a loan and grant program designed to get people into homes.

Not enough money, said the legislators failing to get the job done, despite a year when there was a $1 billion budget surplus. The whole thing fell apart when legislators decided to punt tax reform to a future legislative session, the proverbial kicking of the can down the road.

Still, this was only mile 10, there would be another legislative session later in the year, said lawmakers; still time to focus on taxes and those who need housing.

As Deseret News reporter Katie McKellar wrote back in March after funding for housing failed:

"As chairman of the state's newly created Commission on Housing Affordability, (Jake) Anderegg said he's 'received assurances' that there will be funding for the bill 'when we come back in the special session' this summer. He said he didn't know how much yet, but that 'I'm going to shoot for everything I can get.'"

Others at the time were less optimistic, and folks like hero-to-the-homeless Pamela Atkinson were left to keep running this particular marathon. But the race to roofs for the homeless took another hit this week.

The once optimistic Anderegg told the Commission on Housing Affordability that the plan now is to do a better job selling legislators on their need for money in next year's general legislative session.

"The reality is, we don't know yet if there will be a special session," Anderegg told reporter McKellar this week in a story that appears in today's Deseret News. He told her if the opportunity comes "we'll push for it," but it doesn't look likely and the strategy is now pointed toward doing a better job next year.

That's a frustrating result. Another bill which would have created drug-free zones around the three new homeless shelters that are being constructed also didn't receive funding with the bill's author saying he'll try again next year.

So during a time of budget surplus, there's no funding to make life better around the coming shelters and no money to seed a housing program. "Wait until next year" will have its consequences.

Every runner knows the importance of pace and momentum. Constant starts and stops make it nearly impossible to run effectively. A steady course brings much better results and then when obstacles come, it's easier to persevere.

Still, the homeless advocates aren't giving up. Whatever the storm they will continue to push for respect for the homeless and funding for those trying to help them.

"Quite frankly, if the state's going to take this seriously, they need to put their money where their mouth is," June Hiatt, director of policy and advocacy for the Utah Housing Coalition, told McKellar. "To once again be told, 'We don't have the money,' it's harder to hear every year."

Monday Linden will return to the starting line to defend her title in the 2019 edition of the Boston Marathon. She finished second by two seconds in 2011, was ninth in 2014 and fourth in 2015. News articles following last year's race noted how she nearly gave up after coming so close.

Utah's housing advocates have shown resilience too, and they don't plan to give up anytime soon. But it would help if legislators would understand that the huge problem of housing will only get worse the further we are into the race. And it's neither the legislators nor the advocates who really feel the pain, it is those struggling to get a roof over their heads.

For them the housing crisis is a sprint. They need help now, even if the greater problem requires marathon-like patience to solve.