SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes is frustrated. He’s angry. He wants action. He is now unofficially taking charge of getting rid of the crime surrounding the downtown homeless shelter and cleaning up the streets in the Rio Grande neighborhood.
He has set up an office in the old Salt Lake Police station on 200 South across the street from The Road Home shelter.
“This is the war room,” he says standing inside the spartan surroundings that include some basic desks and chairs, a sink and a bathroom.
But he is there because of the window. He looks across the street and witnesses the lawlessness going on almost 24/7. “You see people sticking needles in their arms. You will see drug purchases, exchanges going on.”
He’s frustrated because he persuaded his fellow legislators from all over the state to spend millions of dollars on the problem which he says is getting worse. He says sarcastically you can do worse for free.
He sees a new attitude among the criminal element that they no long fear being arrested. “There is no worry any longer in this area to be seen committing a crime. The law needs to be enforced and they need to be dealt with.”
ABC 4’s Randall Carlisle spent less than an hour inside the office and he and Hughes witnessed a man shooting up, another man violently reacting to smoking spice and other people going through that man’s pockets while he was having seizures.
Governor Herbert has called a Wednesday meeting, a homeless summit of sorts, to talk about the problem and Hughes wants that meeting to take place in his office near the shelter, not at the State Capitol.
“I think my colleagues, the stakeholders, when we begin discussing these issues, there’s nothing more powerful than if you look out this window and see what we’re talking about.” No word yet on if the governor will agree to meet there.
Speaker Hughes is confident that an “action” plan will come out of that meeting. He won’t reveal specifics of the “action” but says it may include an almost daily sweep of the area to get the criminals and drug dealers behind bars and the real homeless people the help they need.
Carlisle asked him if calling in the National Guard and a so-called “Operation Diversion” on steroids would be considered. His one word reply “absolutely.”
The Wednesday meeting will include the mayors of Salt Lake County and City and the top police officials. Getting them all on the same page may be a herculean task, but Hughes says he is up to it. He also claims if there is a hold out he will call them out and name them.
It may sound heavy handed, but Hughes won’t wait any longer. “I am here in this area because there’s no going back. I have no more meetings to hold, no more reinforcements, no more money. We have what we have, so this is it. We move forward from here without excuses. This is where we make our stand.”