SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The Pioneer Park Coalition proposed a new solution to reduce homelessness and crime in Salt Lake City.  

Despite the millions of dollars of state funding going towards reducing homelessness and the Salt Lake City Police Department’s (SLCPD) statistics that say crime is down, the coalition, along with neighbors and business owners in the area said they’re not seeing any changes. 

The Pioneer Park Coalition proposed more supportive housing including sanctioned camping sites for mental health and drug addiction services and jail time meant to help reform individuals who continually break the law. 

“What we can do is enforce no camping and say your alternative is to jail or go to the sanctioned camp,”  Scott Howell, PCC Board of Directors said.

They said the focus needs to be on services addressing crime and drug addiction first, before focusing on housing. They said shelters aren’t fixing the problem and instead, create safety issues and more crime. 

Neighbors and business owners said the shelter in their area attracts this behavior. 

“We see a lot of open camping, we see sex work, we see open sex work open drug dealing,” Pioneer Park Coalition executive board director Amy J. Hawkins said.

“Broad daylight probably about 1 p.m. on a Saturday, and out jumps somebody and says, ‘give me all of your stuff,’” neighbor and business owner Bob Danielson said.

The coalition also proposed stricter enforcement of the law, specifically no camping laws, drug offenses and repeat offenders saying we should respond to small crime, so it doesn’t escalate.  

“We believe that our homeless friends will not progress until they recognize the consequences of their behavior,” Jim Behunin, PCC Executive Director said.

They also pointed to public accountability for police, homeless resources and government so the public can see the effects of well-run resource shelters and lower crime. 

The coalition said there are some people living on the street who want to continue living without a home and others who don’t so we need options to care for both populations while still providing the best options for the community. 

“The model that’s in place now is not working, it’s not working for people experiencing homelessness and it’s not working for the neighborhoods in which the resources are currently being placed,” Hawkins said.

In the past, SLC Mayor Mendenhall has been against sanctioned homeless camps.

In a joint statement with the Salt Lake City Council, she and the council said:

“We welcome and appreciate the work, study, and interest the pioneer park coalition is taking in such an important statewide issue. In the same way solutions for homelessness are the responsibility of all levels of government, lasting solutions also require the involvement and perspectives of the community as a whole. That broad-based, cooperative approach is happening right now in our own city and state in an unprecedented way. 

Salt Lake City shares with the coalition the goals of increased supportive housing, expansions in mental and behavioral health services, and accountability for this issue at all levels of government. We appreciate the coalition highlighting these critical shortages in the system and hope it encourages greater understanding of this complex issue. We certainly look forward to further conversations. 

The city remains dedicated to effectively and efficiently addressing this crisis.” 

The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, released the statement:

“The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness is working in close cooperation with local municipalities, law enforcement, the State Office of Homeless Services and others to implement evidence-based approaches to ending homelessness. Through this unprecedented level of coordination across government, non-profit and private sectors, we are making steady progress, though there is still work to be done. We welcome individuals and entities seeking solutions to homelessness in our state that reflect the dignity of the person and best practices for addressing the often complex needs of people experiencing homelessness. “