Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Race, Religion & Social Justice

Salt Lake’s latest camp abatement on Victory Road leaves people looking for ‘stability’

Victory Road Camp Abatement-1, April 27, 2022
Emily Means
/
KUER
People push their belongings down Victory Road near the State Capitol after Salt Lake officials shut down a homeless encampment in the mountains.

Salt Lake County and City officials launched a large-scale abatement of a homeless encampment in the city’s foothills Wednesday.

Front-end loaders pushed trash and people’s belongings over to dump trucks, while a pickup truck dragged a camper with no wheels down the mountain near the State Capitol.

City officials estimated 50 people had been living at the encampment off Victory Road, though residents believe there may have been closer to 100.

Victory Road Camp Abatement-2, April 27, 2022
Emily Means
/
KUER
Sydnee Collingwood stands with her belongings she managed to pack up before local officials cleared out the encampment she had been living at.

Sydnee Collingwood, 27, has stayed there off and on for around five years and felt a sense of security at the location.

“Being homeless, you’re constantly getting moved around,” Collingwood said. “Up here is one of the only places where you can actually have somewhat of a stable — I mean, it's not the best — but it’s the stablest you can be while you’re homeless. Like you actually have the same place to go to sleep every night and not have to worry about getting kicked out the next morning.”

But even she agreed the garbage piling up was getting out of hand. Local fire officials also had concerns about propane tanks and other flammable materials igniting wildfires on the mountain.

Salt Lake County Health Department spokesperson Nicholas Rupp said this isn’t the first time they’ve had to address this encampment.

“We've been here eight times in 11 years,” Rupp said. “Like, clearly, this isn't a solution. But we are doing what we need to do to protect our environment.”

Victory Road Camp Abatement-3, April 27, 2022
Emily Means
/
KUER
A sign that reads, “This is our house” was found on the side of a trail that connected a large homeless encampment. City officials estimated 50 people had been living there, but residents guessed there were around 100.

Some residents of the camp, including Collingwood, suggested putting dumpsters and portable bathrooms in the area, to help keep things clean.

Michelle Hoon, with Salt Lake City’s homeless engagement team, said that hasn’t worked well in the past.

“When [a camp] gets bigger, that infrastructure, it just gets overwhelmed,” Hoon said.

Given the history of the area, city officials know people will come back after the abatement. And Hoon said when service providers offered people available shelter beds, they turned them down.

Andrew Johnston, who oversees homelessness policy for Salt Lake City, said these operations are intended to help keep camps small so they don’t balloon into health and safety hazards. But he knows there aren’t many alternatives.

Victory Road Camp Abatement-4, April 27, 2022
Emily Means
/
KUER
A pickup truck pulls a camper down from the foothills north of the State Capitol during a camp abatement.

“We need a lot of help from all levels of government because a lot of people need places to be,” Johnston said. “So in the city, [we’re] working on a lot of permanent housing, motel beds to try and bridge that gap temporarily and then as much outreach as possible to make sure we're engaging the people who are still camping to see if we can find the right fit for services, what they want and need.”

As for Collingwood, she got connected to a service provider during the abatement. She hopes that means she can find permanent housing soon.

“For me, I have to have a lot of stability to be able to try to progress at all,” she said. “When I'm constantly worrying about where I'm going to go or sleep, or just pretty much surviving minute by minute, it's kind of hard.”

Officials say the abatement will likely continue for the next couple of days.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.