SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – In record-breaking heat, the Salt Lake County Health Department conducted a scheduled camp abatement on the streets near Rio Grande — and some question why the health department is doing this during a time of extreme weather.
In downtown Salt Lake City Tuesday morning, county health department crews took to clearing items left behind.
A woman experiencing homelessness watched as crews cleared the area, and said she believes scheduled abatements are necessary.
“They have to do this, they have to do this,” said the woman who asked to remain anonymous. “What are they going to do? Take all this stuff to the laundry? No.”
But Unsheltered Utah advocate, Lindsie Hill, said it’s unnecessary to move people during this week’s heat wave — especially during a time that officials are warning people to stay out of the sun.
“Right now, they’re choosing to do it in the middle of a heat wave. It’s been on the news – there’s cooling centers around the community, and it’s just unnecessary to be moving people in this much heat,” Hill said. “There hasn’t been much consideration in moving those abatement days in consideration of the weather. Now, with this record heat, they’re still not doing the same.”
Health department spokesperson Nicholas Rupp said abatement days are typically only canceled during colder weather.
“If there’s a snowstorm on a scheduled abatement, we will cancel that abatement, so we don’t displace individuals out of the only home they have,” Rupp said.
But Hill said she remembers abatements still happening.
“To not notice that storm’s that were predicted, blizzards that were predicted, like heavy winds that were predicted, are lining up very well with the days they’re doing abatements,” she said.
In hot temperatures Rupp said scheduled abatements are not canceled because people are given time to move their belongings without having to do it in the heat, and cooling zones are available.
“We don’t expect them to pick up and pack up things today in that hot weather. We notified them several days ago,” he said. “It’s not doing anybody any good allowing them to remain in a hot tent in over 100-degree weather. That is potentially dangerous. Asking them to use a cool zone, that’s not as great a concern as cold weather when we don’t have those resources necessarily set up.”
“A better time to do an abatement would be when you’re not concerned about people having a heat stroke, when you’re not concerned about people being dehydrated, when people have more capacity in the shelters, which is again due to the heat,” Hill said.
With advocate’s concern for not enough space in shelters, ABC4 News asked the health department if there is no space available.
“We never conduct an environmental abatement when there are no beds available. There are always beds available before an abatement. So, our staff confirms with social service partners that there are places for individuals to go,” Rupp said.
For every 10,000 people in Utah, nearly 10 people are experiencing homeless, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows in its 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report Part 1 to Congress.