Homeless day shelter deal highlights tensions over camping in downtown Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City’s Planning Commission could vote to approve or deny the expansion during its Sept. 27 meeting. If approved, the building would grow by 5,579 square feet and the center would offer mental health services.
Some stipulations in the agreement are meant to discourage homeless people from camping outside the day shelter, which is currently a popular place for people to stay because of its proximity to services.
The St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall and Weigand Resource Center is across the street from The Gateway outdoor mall. In July, a group of Gateway residents and businesses attended a town hall meeting to voice their concerns about the proposed expansion and ongoing frustrations.
The nonprofit spent the next two months meeting with Gateway community members, Solutions Utah, the mayor’s office and the city’s police department. They discussed “the negative impacts to the surrounding neighborhood due to the proximity of homelessness services provided by CCS,” according to a September email to a city planner from Catholic Community Services.
The charity has since sent the city’s planning director the eight agreed-upon solutions they outline in their security and operations plan.
One of the stipulations in the agreement calls for more lighting outside the center “to improve safety and act as a deterrent to keep individuals from camping on the sidewalk and engaging in unlawful activities.” Catholic Community Services will also have to post at least four signs outside that read “No Camping, No Loitering, No Littering.”
The organization also agrees to hire private security officers to patrol the sidewalks every day between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. This is meant to “deter individuals from camping, loitering, littering, creating nuisances, and engaging in illegal activity.” If the security guards see something illegal, they will report it to the police. Law enforcement will have access to the security logs, exterior cameras and the logs of who comes into the center.
Catholic Community Services will also meet every month or every other month with The Gateway and Rio Grande communities to “ensure that solutions can be worked towards, regarding negative effects of homelessness with CSS’s operation.”
Those camping outside the Weigand center and in the Rio Grande area are already on the city’s radar. Michelle Hoon with Salt Lake City’s Homeless Engagement and Response Team said the city’s rapid intervention team typically goes to that area every Monday and clears people out. She said this team does a lighter cleanup than a full-scale abatement, meaning they use smaller equipment and don’t close off the street.
Every day of the week, Hoon said, a cleaning crew goes out and cleans up trash in that area, but they don’t ask people to leave.
The rapid intervention team cleared people out of the Rio Grande Street area on Monday, Sept. 25. Wendy Garvin, executive director of the advocacy group Unsheltered Utah, said she visited the street on Sunday and saw about 50 people camping there.
Tonya Smith, 63, was camped out on Monday when the city cleared the area. She said she has health problems, so she likes to stay by the Weigand center so can easily access the facilities. But since Weigand closes at night, she said she has to constantly shift back and forth between the center and sleeping on the street.