HEALTHY MIND MATTERS
USU Student Loses Housing After Mental Health Crisis
Apr 1, 2021, 10:54 PM | Updated: 11:04 pm
LOGAN, Utah – A Utah State University student said she was threatened with eviction after expressing suicidal thoughts to her roommates. A similar thing happened last fall to a student living in an Orem apartment complex, and that has mental health experts concerned.
Olivia Larsen, 22, was living at Oakridge Student Apartment, an off-campus housing complex in Logan not contracted with the university.
The apartment’s management company, Triton Investments, strongly denied Larsen was asked to leave because of her mental health crisis. In a statement, they told KSL, “Oakridge has never evicted or asked a resident to leave due to mental illness.”
But Olivia and her father, Tim Larsen, said whether or not it was a formal eviction, the message was clear.
“I remember asking them, ‘Well, are you evicting her?’ and the lady that I was speaking with to the best of my recollection, said something like, ‘Well, we can do it formally or we can do it informally, but she needs to leave,'” Tim Larsen said.
He said he tried twice more to get clarification.
“So, then I asked a third time, ‘I said, so let me understand exactly what you’re telling me. You’re telling me that she’s not welcome back at the apartment complex?’ And I believe the lady said, ‘Yes, that’s right,’” he said.
“When I was 18, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder,” Olivia Larsen said. “When I’m depressed, I feel worthless,” she explained. “And it feels like it will never end.”
Larsen said she reached an all-time low in January. In early February, she sought help.
“I could feel the depression getting worse, and worse, and worse. I knew that suicidal thoughts were on the horizon and I wanted to get ahead of that,” she said.
That’s when she asked a roommate for help.
“I said, ‘I’m having harmful thoughts, will you please take me to the ER?’” Larsen said.
Her roommate agreed, but the hospital chose not to admit Larsen, and she went home. The next morning Larsen drove herself back to the hospital, but again was not admitted. She stayed with her family for several days in Ogden before eventually being admitted to McKay-Dee Hospital on Feb. 12.
Three days later, Larsen said her father got a call from Triton Investments.
“And told him that I was not welcome at Oakridge, that I had to leave and that they would never rent to me again,” Larsen recalled.
Tim Larsen said Triton referenced this part of the rental agreement: “Resident agrees that the conduct of Resident, his guests or other occupants shall not be disorderly, boisterous or unlawful and shall not disturb the rights, comfort or convenience of other persons.”
“That’s the part they said she had violated – that she had violated the comfort and the convenience of her roommates,” he said. “They explained to me that it was all due to the discomforts that Livy’s actions caused for her roommates.”
The Larsens did not receive a formal letter of eviction, but Tim Larsen believes the message was the same.
“I don’t see a difference from my perspective. She was not allowed to be at the apartment, so if that’s not eviction, and they use some other term for it – to me, it’s the same result,” he said. “I can’t describe it in any other way than she was asked to leave.”
Olivia Larsen said the news only exacerbated her anxiety. She said she was dizzy and felt like she couldn’t breathe. “It felt like this giant wave just knocked me down,” she said. “You feel isolated and alone and this just made me feel like I had no one.”
Larsen’s story was shocking to Taryn Hiatt, Utah area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“I just cried. I just thought, how heartbreaking to be in that space, to be vulnerable enough to open up and share where you’re at, and then have that be the reaction. So, I’m mad,” she said. “(I) had never thought this could even be something that a person would be evicted for.”
Hiatt said this is the opposite of what her organization strives to accomplish.
“We have for years been begging people, right? If you’re struggling, tell someone, if you’re in crisis, reach out,” she said.
Tim Larsen and Hiatt believe Olivia Larsen would have been treated differently if she had been dealing with a physical medical issue.
“If my daughter had had appendicitis, or diabetes or a broken leg and she had asked for help from a roommate, we likely would not be having this conversation,” Tim Larsen said.
“We wouldn’t do it with the health condition. So I’m just shocked that we’re doing it here,” Hiatt added.
Apartment Complex’s Response
Oakridge Student Housing and Triton Investments declined an interview with KSL-TV but said they have never asked a resident to leave due to mental illness.
Their full statement read:
“Oakridge Student Housing does not discuss personal information of its tenants or former tenants. While news organizations may request statements, it is not prudent nor appropriate to vent the personal issues of residents in a public forum.
“Oakridge is student housing. Its residents are here to attend school and Oakridge attempts to provide an environment that is conducive for students. In some circumstances, residents are disruptive to other residents. When those matters are brought to the attention of management, it is evaluated to determine what, if any, action can or should be taken.
“Since student residents are in close living quarters with each other, it is important that they can live with each other undistracted from their studies. If a resident complains about another, it is investigated to determine validity. If multiple residents complain about the same issue and it is verified, appropriate action is usually taken. Often this is just a discussion with the offending person to find options to resolve the problem. In most cases, this discussion resolves the problem or a solution is found.
“Oakridge has never evicted or asked a resident to leave due to mental illness.”
Lobbying For Housing Protection
Tim Larsen believes the apartment complex could have made other accommodations, like moving his daughter to a different apartment unit, before resorting to the termination of her lease.
Hiatt argued the loss of housing is a basic need.
“Where do I go now, if I’m not able to even go back to my own home?” she said. “We cannot keep punishing people when they do finally get brave enough to open up and let us in.”
She said situations like these tell her there is more work to be done in educating Utah communities. “If somebody is in a crisis, especially in mental health crisis, we need to make sure that the threat of eviction is not the next step,” Hiatt said.
Hiatt plans to push Utah legislators to protect housing equity for all, regardless of their health issues. Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, has expressed interest in looking into what needs to happen legislatively to prevent this from happening again.
“I’m interested in exploring whether loopholes in rental laws are being exploited to unfairly punish renters who are struggling with mental health crises and suicide risk,” Dailey-Provost said. “If the spirit of the law is not being followed, then a statutory change may be needed to clarify that evicting tenants in a suicidal crisis is not only immoral, it is illegal. We would never evict a tenant for having a heart attack or cancer, and this practice only serves to further stigmatize mental health in our state.”
Olivia Larsen is now home with her parents and doing better. To prioritize her mental health, she is no longer enrolled in classes at Utah State University. She plans to take a few art classes at Utah Valley University during the summer term.
She shared her story in hopes no one has to go through a similar experience.
“Please ask for help,” Larsen pleaded. “It takes a lot of courage, but your life is worth so much and you have so much to live for.”
If you or someone you love is struggling, go to the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline with that individual at 1-800-273-8255.
“These folks are not going to turn you away, they’re not going to turn you in, they’re going to listen, they’re going to guide you, and they’re going to help you,” Hiatt said.
SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the Utah State Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Additional Crisis Hotlines:
National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741
Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
- NAMI Utah
- Utah Chapter-American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Safe UT Crisis Text and Tip Line
In an emergency:
- Call 911
- Go to the emergency room