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Groups Beef Up Homeless Outreach in Rio Grande Area, Target Campers

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Whittney Evans
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Homeless individuals lay down tarps and some have tents on the streets on 500 west near the homeless shelter.

Homeless outreach teams from Volunteers of America and The Road Home shelter were out in full force Wednesday trying to find out why many of the homeless downtown have stopped seeking services and started camping more along city streets.

Here on 5th west in Salt Lake City, just south of The Road Home, outreach workers are surveying dozens of people who’ve set up tarps and tents. They want to know who they are and where they came from. But most importantly, they want to know if anyone is helping them.

Downy Bowles is a street engagement worker. She approaches Jodi Black who’s sitting in a wheelchair.  “So are guys working on housing through like Road Home?” Bowles says.

“No we’re figuring out how to try to do it ourselves. It takes too long. It just takes too long,” Black says.

That’s when Bowles explains there is rental deposit assistance for Black, who says she’s been here for about three months and emotionally, she can’t handle it anymore.

“You see what that street’s like. It’s horrible. And it’s deadly,” she says.

George Kein is an outreach worker for The Road Home who spends most of his time on nearby Rio Grande Street. Kein says he probably knows the names and faces of everyone in the area.  

“All these people out here, these were campers that were camping on Rio Grande Street and in Pioneer Park,” Kein says. “And just because of the big police presence and I would say more of the drug use on Rio Grande Street that’s kind of forced these people back this way.”

The outreach ended prematurely, as police officers arrived on the scene to sweep the area and toss out many of the items the homeless had collected. VOA and The Road Home employees said they were unable to complete the survey as campers began to scatter. They say they’re hoping to do another event like this in the near future.  

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