In a crumpled copy of Palmer Court’s
housing rules, a former tenant of the
low-income housing facility in downtown
Salt Lake City, Mike Whiteman,
has underlined a rule prohibiting violent
threats against other tenants.
Whiteman, in fact, complained twice
about threats made against his ex-girlfriend
and his current girlfriend,
including one man who threatened to
break Whiteman’s girlfriend’s neck.
Palmer Court staff promised action
would be taken, and within a month
the staff had resolved the complaint—
by evicting Whiteman.
Whiteman doesn’t deny that he told administrators he would take a hammer to the tenant if the threats continued, but he’s baffled by the double standard that bounced him for his threat while the other tenants still call Palmer Court home.
“Whether or not that individual was
a threat really has to do with Mike’s
perception,” says Road Home Homeless
Shelter Director Matt Minkevitch, who
also oversees Palmer Court.
For low-income housing advocates like Minkevitch, the drama of a few tenants may just be the tip of a larger iceberg which is this: How can low-income housing accommodate a growing population of tenants with chronic mental illness?
Approximately 350 people live in
Palmer Court, located at 999 S. Main.
Whiteman was part of the 60 unsubsidized
tenants who moved to the facility
from the Regis, a State Street single-room
occupany hotel, in the early summer. He
never had much of a problem with Palmer
Court until he received a phone call from
his ex-girlfriend on July 23, asking him
to come quickly to her room because
another tenant was shouting at her and
trying to break into her room.
Besides calling the police, Whiteman complained to Palmer Court staff whom, he says, ignored him. Less than a month later, Whiteman and his current girlfriend were stopped in the hallway by a different tenant.
“He steps right out and looks her
dead in the eye and says ‘I’ll break your
fucking neck, bitch,’” Whiteman says.
Again, he called security and police, but
to no avail.
Whiteman says if it weren’t for his
personal history, he would have reacted
differently to the threat. “I’d run
metal up his ass.”
Whiteman served a 12-year sentence
at the Utah State Prison in Draper for
homicide. The conviction stemmed from
a fight Whiteman had with a Mexican
trans-national gang member in Pioneer
Park in 1993. Whiteman wielded a knife
in the fight, a factor that likely got
him incarcerated for murder. However,
evidence which never made it to trial
showed that Whiteman was handicapped
in the fight with an injured fist,
as reported in the Sept. 22, 2005, City
Weekly feature “Whiteman’s Burden.”
The time inside, however, helped
Whiteman kick a 30-year-old heroin
addiction and turn his life around in
many other ways. The lesson he learned
from his incarceration prompted him
to call the authorities rather than deal
with the tenant himself. Still, Whiteman
says, “Even when I win, I lose.”
Nearly a week after complaining
about the second incident, Whiteman
received a letter from Minkevitch, who
informed Whiteman the situation was
being handled. The letter closed by saying
that if Whiteman were concerned
for his safety that he should call the
police. While Whiteman says he and his
girlfriend were assured by Palmer Court
Manager Karen Grenko that the tenant
would be evicted, the couple later
learned the man was allowed to stay.
Whiteman started carrying a hammer
and encouraged his girlfriend to
carry a club. When asked about the
weapon, Whiteman told Palmer Court
staff that if the man “did anything
aggressive toward us, I’m gonna put
this hammer through his skull.”
Within days of making the threat,
Whiteman was handed a three-day
eviction notice by Minkevitch for
threatening to kill the other tenant.
For privacy reasons, Minkevitch was
limited in how extensively he could comment
on the incident. “I can imagine,
from his vantage point, what [Whiteman
was] perceiving,” Minkevitch says. “I
also fully support our team in the collective
decisions with respect to this
Perhaps Whiteman’s criminal history
played a factor in his immediate
eviction, but he believes other factors
contributed to his eviction—such as
him taking his complaints to the City
and the media as well as him requesting
an audit of Palmer Court.
Minkevitch doesn’t give much credence
to Whiteman’s speculation,
“We didn’t do anything without legal counsel,” Minkevich says. “We have a lot of checks in our system.”
Kerry Bate, director of the Salt Lake
County Housing Authority, couldn’t
speak to the specifics of Whiteman’s
eviction, but says, in general, treatment
considerations might play a role
in that type of dispute. “If [an] individual
is tied up with Valley Mental
Health, for example, and getting treatment
to help them deal with their
issues—we’d be more tolerant with
that person’s situation.”
Whiteman says that Palmer Court
manager Grenko did indeed say that the
mental health of the second individual
was a factor in their decision making.
While Palmer Court could not comment
on their tenants’ history, a criminal
search of the tenant who made the second
threat does show a record of mental
health treatment going back to 2000.
Regardless of who’s at fault, Bate says, the bad news is that low-income housing is extremely limite, with more than 7,000 household families on the waiting list for subsidized housing in the state. The Housing Authority hasn’t seen a wait like this in over a decade.
After being evicted from Palmer
Court, Whiteman spent a month living
in his car with his companion animal,
a kitten named Pepe La Pew, until he
found housing close to the University
of Utah. Although resettled, Whiteman
is still angry over the treament he got
from Palmer Court.
“I didn’t even want to be there near
the end of it,” he says. “But the pretenses
they [evicted me] for were pretty