Tooele County sees spike in homelessness since Operation Rio Grande

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TOOELE Utah (ABC4 Utah) –  Sixty-four homeless campers were evicted Thursday from campgrounds in Tooele County.
Workers for the county parks and trails division said the homeless were evicted for violating camping policies.

And Dave Brown with parks and trails said Salt Lake City’s “Operation Rio Grande” may be impacting the unusual spike in homelessness in their camping areas.

“They have sad eyes,” Brown said of the homeless people they evicted.  “They’re in tears ranging from 85 years old to 3-years old.”

He said some of those evicted claimed to have been staying at Salt Lake City’s homeless shelter.

Another parks employee Fred Killpack said there’s been sightings of the homeless being dropped off.

“Nice vans, they’re new organized vans,” said Killpack of the vehicles seen dropping off the homeless.  “They’ll come in the canyons unload them, leave them a couple of days water, a couple days of food and leave them.”

The spike in homeless camps has created a workload for employees.  Brown said normal campers pack up what they bring in.   But not these new campers.
At one sight suspected to be abandoned by the homeless, there was garbage strewn around, two shoddy tents and evidence of possible drug use.

Brandon Sacre is also homeless and lives at one of the campsites but helps the county to offset his fees.

“They’re leaving them trashed, garbage all over the place we have to go around and pick them up,” said Sacre.

Those in charge of Operation Rio Grande said they’re not transporting the homeless anywhere.

“I can tell you from our plan and what’s happening that is not true,” said Keith Squires with the Department of Public Safety. “The whole intention here is to create a safe environment here but as Speaker Hughes says some people are wanting to move out of here as we enforce laws.”

Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne also echoed Squires.

“I haven’t seen any factual evidence that anyone is shipping folks to our area,” Milne said.

He said there’s always been a seasonal upswing in homelessness in the canyons but said each year there seems to be more homeless living in the canyons.

But Brown with the parks and trails said anyone is welcome to camp at the county’s three main canyons, as long as they pay fees and have identification.

The homeless campers don’t bother Larry Wall who along with his family, set up tent for the weekend.

“Not really, as long as they keep it picked up and help us enjoy it,” he said. “Everybody has a right to live somewhere.”
 

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