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County Officials Announce Plan For Homeless Shelter Safety

Whittney Evans

Salt Lake County officials announced additional steps Tuesday for improving public safety in the Rio Grande neighborhood. They called on Salt Lake City officials to get on board.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams joined Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder and District Attorney Sim Gill to announce that the county has applied for an $8 million state grant to help pay for mental health and drug abuse treatment. Sim Gill said while recent criminal justice reforms have reduced sentences for some drug crimes, there isn’t adequate funding for treatment-so many offenders just find themselves back in the county jail.

“If we continue to hold people in need of treatment because a treatment bed is not available, then we will continue to misuse the jail as a warehouse and defeat the purpose of criminal justice reform,” Gill said.

The three officials said they want to close parts of Rio Grande Street, relocate the nearby state liquor store and require homeless service providers change their operations to prevent people from lining up on 500 west for beds. If that sounds familiar, it is because Sheriff Winder proposed many of the same ideas back in March. 

“We begged and pleaded to have substantive changes occur well before the warm weather started and we did not see it,” Winder said. “And I’m telling you it ain’t going away next year either.”

Winder who recently announced he’s taking a job as chief of the Moab Police Department said communication between he and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and her police chief Mike Brown is strained. Brown has criticized Winder’s decision to turn away some low-level offenders from the jail.

Biskupski and Brown called a press conference late Tuesday to respond. The Mayor said, this year her budget includes $10 million to improve the area around Rio Grande Street. And she touted the city’s new Community Connections Center, which provides social work and interventions to walk-in clients.

“We live this every day and every day we realize victories, we save lives and we arrest criminals,” Biskupski said.

Biskupski also disagreed that communication between the two governments is lacking. She said she has weekly meetings with county officials about this issue.  

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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