SLC homeless camp clean-ups draws concern from community members at city council meeting

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Dozens of community members took to Tuesday night’s Salt Lake City council meeting to voice their concerns about the homeless camp clean-ups taking place this month. It’s all part of Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s 12-week plans to improve conditions for the city’s unsheltered populations.

“As we saw last winter, intervening in these camps do not look like finding these people resources and getting them into places where they are to get assistance. What it actually looks like is confiscating their survival items, beating people, arresting them, and ultimately just acting violent against a community that is already one of the most vulnerable,” said Aric Parkinson.

“We’re just moving people around the city instead of actually providing services. The shelters are not safe right now with the pandemic and they don’t have a place to go,” said Anne Charles.

“I was so heartbroken to see that treatment of our unsheltered community after a devastating wind storm with dropping temperatures and people losing what supplies they do have. I will acknowledge the effort of putting up heating shelters to keep some of these warm. But the next day when you’re going around and taking people’s stuff, it’s just not great,” said Brigette Dunbeck.

The priority locations for these abatements are the Taufer Park area, Downtown/St. Mark’s Episcopal Church area, North Temple, Ballpark, Granary, and I-80 Overpass at 700 East. The 12-week cost is $233,880 of current funding to perform the clean-ups.

ABC4 News spoke to two unsheltered residents, who requested to have their names concealed. They said a car accident landed both of them on the streets and they’ve been working to recover financially and economically. But with the rising costs of housing and shelter capacity, it’s been difficult.

“Some people don’t choose to be on the streets. I mean, some people don’t have enough money, are unable to get jobs for whatever reason,” she said.

“I’d just like to see more understanding about our situation, more understanding, more empathy because there’s not a lot of that in this world,” he said.

They explained that these abatements have always made them feel a sense of uncertainty.

“If they come over and they tell us we actually have to leave, we have nowhere to go. We’re scared. We have no idea what’s going to happen,” she said. “Are they going to put us in a different location? Are they going to get us shelter? Or are they just going to move us from one corner to another?”

That’s one reason why Mayor Mendenhall took to social media to alleviate concerns. On Twitter, she assured that:

  • There will be proper advance notice of a cleaning event
  • Outreach and available services will be offered to campers
  • Unsheltered residents will not be permanently moved without having an option for where they could go
  • Health department will only dispose of items that have been abandoned or are determined to pose a health risk
  • No citations will be issued to campers for being homeless as part of the clean-ups

After going through one camp abatement last week, unsheltered residents said city officials kept their word.

“Everything that she (Mayor Mendenhall) voiced has happened. They’ve just helped clean up. They’ve not removed anybody. They’ve not given us tickets. They’ve not done anything like that,” said an unsheltered resident who didn’t want to be identified.

With increased funding, the city plans to equip identified partners for basic needs support with pop-up tents, cleaning supplies, sharps containers, etc. to help ensure environmental quality.

Other plans include motel vouchers associated with abatements, interdepartmental equipment sharing agreement, gift cards, or positive community events to incentivize campers to move during cleans, quick access to detox/treatment services ahead of abatements, and more.

Mayor Mendenhall was not available for an interview Wednesday, but issued this statement to ABC4 News:

“Salt Lake City has heard from hundreds of residents, businesses, community councils, and more asking us for an actionable plan to address the increased needs throughout the city around homelessness.

We have a responsibility to the unsheltered population, residents, and businesses to ensure that public spaces are safe, clean, and accessible.

Homelessness is not a crime, but some camps can and do present serious health and safety risks to those living in them and the public at large.

The intent of this plan is to address those issues in a humane way. The plan also serves as one component of a larger strategy around homeless services that includes strategic deployment of temporary public restrooms as needed, approved funding for the 4th Street Clinic and nearly $1 million in rental assistance and rapid rehousing, and the continued investment in affordable housing throughout the city, like Pamela’s Place which we just celebrated with a ribbon-cutting yesterday.”

For more information about Salt Lake City’s Enhanced Neighborhood Support Program for unsheltered encampments, click here to read the City Council transmittal.

For more on the budget amendment that was passed during Tuesday night’s city council meeting, click here.

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