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Behind the Badge: SLCPD Homeless Outreach Service Team strives to help people get off the streets

Behind the Badge

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Every day Salt Lake City Police Department Detective Joseph Taylor and his partner Leo Abila seek out homeless people living on the streets of the capital city. Not to arrest them or harass them….but to help them.


Abila takes a box of food out on patrol. He’s not an officer but a social work case manager who works with Detective Taylor on the SLCPD’s Homeless Outreach Service Team. They let Behind the Badge come along on a cold, rainy Thursday morning as they visited a group of people trying to stay dry under a bridge at Library Square.

“Some of them we contact over and over again,” Det. Taylor said. “You become familiar with them. You get to know their story. Where they’re coming from. What their struggles are and that helps build a rapport with them.”

Taylor spots a man wearing a Denver Broncos sweatshirt digging through someone’s discarded bag for food and calls him over.

“What can we do to help you out right now?” the detective asks. “Nothing we can do for you?”

“I can’t force anybody to take part in resources,” Det. Taylor explains. “I can’t make anybody do anything they don’t want to in that regard and sometimes that’s hard to see.”

Also hard to see, the people camping in makeshift tents along 500 South, including one young woman who emerged barefoot in the 35 degree temperatures and explained she and her partner are hungry and she doesn’t have any shoes. 

“Your toes don’t look good,” Det. Taylor tells her. “You need shoes.”
Abila calls the Volunteers of America to find her some footwear then delivers the box of groceries. The goal is to build enough trust to get them into a resource center and start the path to drug rehab, mental health care and permanent housing but it’s not easy Abila recalls one man who was particularly problematic.

“We got a lot of calls on him. He was intoxicated and we would go out to him on a daily basis,” Abila said. “And we ended up getting him into a treatment center and now he’s you know, doing well in his own apartment just being a productive member of society.”

“Sometimes when you look at the whole situation it seems insurmountable,” Det. Taylor says of the homelessness problem. “But you can see that success when one person is successful and I think that’s what makes it meaningful.”

During the time ABC4 spent with Detective Taylor and Mr. Abila, the results were a mixed bag: eight people they spoke with made appointments to get help. Others like the man in the Broncos sweatshirt refused their offers of assistance.

And the young woman who was barefoot? Well, they came back and brought her a pair of shoes.

For more information on becoming a social worker with the SLCPD, visit http://www.slcpd.com/careers/

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