Crews take homeless camp to police gunfire memorial

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Colorful murals of people who have been killed by police watched on Wednesday as workers disperse an unsheltered encampment in the Fleet Block area of ​​Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake County Health Department officials said the “clean-up” of the camp – which followed offers to residents from service providers and came in the midst of a rainstorm with gusty winds – was necessary to alleviate the environmental and health problems at the site, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“We’re getting there, there are all kinds of other variables,” Dale Keller, county office director responsible for environmental health, told reporters on Wednesday. “Addiction issues, mental health, housing shortages, that sort of thing. Our goal is clearly public and environmental health. This area had certainly shifted to the point where it had become a problem in both areas for the community.

City and county officials have faced complaints in recent weeks from nearby residents and business owners – including Fisher Brewing co-owner Tim Dwyer – about the impact of the encampment on the community.

But the sweep also comes as the cuts themselves have come under increased scrutiny from the city’s activist population and as city council weighs a $ 650,000 budget amendment that would provide for overtime. police volunteers to accompany the Ministry of Health during the latter.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of health department activities in which the police have participated, from city documents dating to the end of March – from 640 in 2019 to 1,071 in 2020.

And the city estimated that 500 additional camp “relocations” would take place throughout the remainder of the fiscal year. Additional security shifts, which include work “before, during, and after camp mitigation,” typically pay an hourly rate and a half of $ 65 per hour.

Fleet Block neighbor Paul Johnson told Salt Lake City Council last week he supported budgeting more money for police support during cleanups.

“We are living in unprecedented times, and those who live near these areas deserve to feel safe in our homes and neighborhoods,” he said, noting that he lives around the corner and could see the camp from his office window.

“I do not neglect that there are a lot of good people living in these settlements,” he added, “but it is unreasonable for the people living in these surrounding neighborhoods to just endure and not seek more public safety when our communities feel anarchic. “

Opponents of the allowances argue, however, that they are ineffective in tackling the root causes of homelessness, lead unsheltered people to lose important assets and often re-traumatize an already vulnerable community.

Jon Ribbons, who said he lives near the Fleet Block, told council the sweeps felt like “someone had come into our community and tore it apart.”

“There are people everywhere,” he says. “There are people who need to find new blankets for the night, new tents for the night. And very often it behooves the good graces of the locals not to call the police when someone is sleeping in the doorway.

City officials said those in the dispersed camp on Wednesday were offered access to health, shelter and other resources before the cleanup, as part of the city’s community engagement program. Mayor of Salt Lake City, Erin Mendenhall.

Through this process, the mayor said on Tuesday that five people had seen their court cases heard in a court of law, 25 people had received COVID-19 vaccines, one person had tested positive for the coronavirus and one person had been transferred to a shelter.

Health officials estimate that the cleanup collected 30 to 35 tons of trash, including tents and mattresses, bicycles, blankets and clothes and other personal belongings that people had left behind.

Many of those in favor of increasing police funding, which is still subject to a council vote, said they saw the cuts as necessary to mitigate the impacts of the camps.

But opponents have argued that the money could be better used to support the city’s homeless residents and get them out of homelessness for good.

Kim Correa, CEO of The INN Between, a hospice for homeless people, noted that the city is in the midst of a pandemic and a housing crisis “which has been exacerbated by a severe shortage of beds. of refuge ”.

“We could use this money to increase the number of beds in emergency shelters, for example, by making sure that some of the winter overflow shelters remain open,” she said at the meeting. last week.

“We could also use some of this money to create an organized, supervised and peaceful camping area,” she said, “which has the necessary facilities such as toilets, showers, garbage and surveillance which people need to feel safe so that they can fall asleep and not worry about being mugged or stolen from all of their possessions.

Mendenhall said she was not interested in a sanctioned camp, an option that was also rejected by the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness.

But in light of fears that the city’s street camping population will increase once winter shelters are closed this month, the Salt Lake city council voted unanimously in a limited public meeting on Tuesday. to maintain that of the Airport Inn Hotel in the west of the city. side open until June 22.

It’s the last temporary zoning by-law that could be extended under state law, and it is expected to help protect the unsheltered population during unpredictable spring weather conditions.

City leaders are also planning to create a tiny home-based facility that could help move people off the streets – a vision that could come true as early as November.

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