Protesters occupy Washington Square Park, standing with homeless population

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 News) Organizers with the Take Shelter Coalition occupied Washington Square Park in downtown Salt Lake City Friday.

They said the reason for the large number of demonstrations is due to the Road Home closure in November.  

Organizers say it’s now more important than ever to stand with the homeless population.

“Our goal with setting up here in front of the city and county building is to really make an impact with the government,” organizer KC Fralick said.  

In the wake of The Road Home closure, three new shelters opened. Organizers say there are now 400 fewer beds.  

The Utah Department of Workforce Services says that during the week of January 1st there were 650 to 697 beds used of the total 700.  

“Since these shelters fill up and more people are left to sleep outside, the police have been coming in and stealing people’s survival belongings,” organizer KC Fralick said.  

But Salt Lake City Police say that officers have a job to do, but harassing people is not their policy.

“That’s not what we are out there to do. We do have ordinances that we need to enforce. The camping ordinance that we enforce most the time with that ordinance- it’s just telling people, “Hey, you can’t be there,” Detective Michael Ruff said.  

Police said that before the ordinance is enforced, officers must make sure that there is enough space available at a homeless shelter.  

Despite the shelters operating near capacity, no one is ever turned away.  

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Friday evening, Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Mayor-elect Erin Mendenhall responded to the protests. Biskupski and Mendenhall said they reached out to the activists gathered on Washington Square to invite them to a meeting including Chief Mike Brown and representatives from the State and County, but they received no response to their request.

Read their entire statement below:

As the Mayor and Mayor-elect of Salt Lake City, we acknowledge, understand, and share the public’s concern about people sleeping outdoors in winter conditions and their ability to access safe shelter.

Salt Lake City has been working on and investing in solutions that treat those experiencing homelessness with dignity. It is our goal and responsibility to ensure that everyone is safe from harm. That includes informing Salt Lake County when public health concerns arise.

A concerted effort has been made to abate these encampments on an ongoing basis throughout the city. The city works in close partnership with the Salt Lake County Health Department to evaluate each encampment on an individual basis and remedy those situations that pose the greatest health and safety risks. 

Part of our efforts include ongoing conversations with people experiencing homelessness through the Community Connection Center team’s outreach work, meeting people where they are at in effort to connect individuals with available services and options for housing. 

In addition to the Community Connection Center and Health Department, our partners include Advantage Services, Odyssey House, Volunteers of America, Catholic Community Services, the Veteran’s Administration and many more. Our Salt Lake City Police, Fire, Community Empowerment, and Communities and Neighborhood Departments have been working as a team along-side our partners to help address concerns we receive from the community.

During this time of inclement weather, special considerations have been made and no cold weather gear will be taken from those in an active encampment between November 1 through March 31. The City and our partners have increased our service outreach efforts since late October. 

The City, State of Utah, and Salt Lake County have worked in a coordinated and strategic effort for over five years to implement the new Homeless Resource Center model. The new HRCs have capacity of 250, 250 and 300 (Geraldine King, Gail Miller and South Salt Lake respectively) as outlined in State statute.

In just this fiscal year, Salt Lake City has directed more $1.69 million in federal grants to provide funding for service providers serving more than 3,370 households. The city has also provided $1.25 million in city dollars to service providers to address issues of homelessness and housing in our community. Past city funding has included $650,000 provided to Salt Lake County to expand access to detox beds, funding which was not able to be utilized.

The city is committed to continuing our efforts. We hope that future conversations will occur with all partners. These are challenges that require meaningful dialogue, support and effort from all of us.

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