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Groesbeck: Salt Lake City Criminalizes The Homeless


The city seems to have good intentions in the new long-term plan to deal with the issue of homelessness. The three-phase plan has important ideals in regards to treating people for addiction and managing the homeless population, but the plan is far from sufficient.

So far the plan forces hundreds of homeless people to relocate instead of developing a direct solution for the area. The plan also does not address the many causes of homelessness. Instead, it is a plan that mostly helps the businesses and people who are fed-up with the homeless people living outside and hoping for hand-outs of food and money each day.

Phase one of the homeless management plan happened on August 14, 2017. It focused on enforcing laws in which numerous people were arrested for drug-related crimes. The intentions are good and it would be beneficial for people to receive assistance in overcoming their drug addictions and to live in a more healthy way. However, the dealers reportedly migrated into other neighborhoods when the police began closely monitoring Rio Grande Street. So the problem hasn’t lessened if dealers still carry on with “business as usual” in other areas.

The second phase to manage homelessness allows drug-addicts to receive treatment in which they are provided a bed in rehabilitation services. If they succeed, charges against them are potentially dropped. If not, they are arrested for their original crimes.

Giving treatment to these people who need it is the right approach and actually helps the core problem. Except, behind the scenes, dozens of men participating in rehabilitation programs in jail have not received treatment since the launch of Operation Rio Grande.  These men will eventually be released from jail without rehabilitation. The city clearly did not plan this program broadly enough to make the necessary changes for a true impact.

Salt Lake City is not alone in its failings to find humane solutions. Cities all over the country lack the ability to humanely and efficiently attend to homeless people. But this is no excuse for what occurred this past May in Salt Lake City — our city actually used a tractor to forcefully clear out Rio Grande. It was a completely cruel method to move people’s belongings, despite their “24-hour notice.”  These people have nowhere to go and no way to get there, so no amount of notice is going to make them move if better solutions aren’t presented.

Criminalizing people for performing necessary life functions such as sleeping and eating is entirely degrading and discriminatory. The city’s ban on camping or sleeping outdoors forces people to make a choice between sleep and being arrested. Sleep deprivation and hunger are recognized as techniques used against prisoners. It is cruel and degrading no matter if the prison is cement or one made up of economic policies and ordinances, and we need to harness a fresh approach to handling the issues at hand.

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Comments (12)

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  • R

    Ronald BarrettAug 12, 2019 at 11:01 am

    camping case was challenged and beaten in slc justice court case two weeks ago.
    apparently they could not prove who owns the public property the tickets were issued on.
    ruling by Jeannine Robinson.

  • A

    AugustJan 30, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    Why does every homeless person have to get a life-destroying mental diagnosis and record, labeled full-blown street-gutter alcoholics & junkies when they are not, treated like they were just born yesterday and knows absolutely nothing, and subjected to those extremely offensive and hateful “Jesus Saves” religious mandates in a prison-like shelter?

  • K

    Kenneth JenksSep 17, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    Is there a credit for the photograph used? Thank you Chronicle for a good article.

  • K

    KeyanSep 16, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Also grace, I’ll let you know that both I and my family have met several of the homeless people here in salt lake. Many of them chose to live this way, believe it or not. Why? I don’t rightly know. Men have homes in Ogden and other places, yet you ask them how long they’ve been in salt lake and they’ll tell you months. They have homes! You have an extremist view on criminalizing just one group of people… But are you saying that we should criminalize both? “I’m sorry mam, you’re presence on this sidewalk in a wheelchair is disrupting this homeless persons sleep, just as this homeless person is blocking the sidewalk. You shall both go to jail.” I want to help these people with all my heart, I assure you. I’m finding every branch of my profession (architecture) that will allow me to do so. Hostile architecture exists, yes. You’re right. Is it wrong? I don’t know. Ask the owner of the business that requests it. I’ve never had to design hostile Architecture.
    I want to help these people. But again, peace and love doesn’t work as we’d like. Unfortunately people abuse that generosity.

  • K

    KeyanSep 16, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Easy to judge the efforts of others, while sitting behind a computer. Also easy to criticize those who have opinions. The facts are simple, arguing about who’s had a worse experience with homeless people doesn’t help the situation.
    I’ve seen both sides of the story. The issue is lack of understanding and communication. Unfortunately the homeless situation in Utah has reached a point where peace and love can’t solve it. You drug dealers and criminals leeching off those who truly do need help. Tell me, if you were a police officer, how would you handle the situation? Are you going to tell a woman who claims she is homeless and needs help that she’s a liar? What if she’s selling large amounts of illegal drugs? Can you prove it?
    The solutions proposed earlier to the situation in creating 4 smaller more well designed and guarded shelters would have helped to take those in need out of the “trap” and placed them in areas where they could be safe, which in turn, would have left the drug dealers and criminals no way to blend in. What happened? “Not in my backyard!” Why? No one was willing to educate themselves on how the whole process would work. The word homeless popped up and they lost their minds.
    You can’t fix people. You also can’t ignore them and push them around the city while you gentrify yet another few blocks. We need to work WITH THEM, And we need people who can take action to do so.
    Is a tractor the best way? No. Is it “A” way? Yes. They’re trying to do the best they can. What are you doing?

  • A

    Angie PortelSep 15, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    First, there is no way this photograph is from downtown Salt Lake City. You intentionally selected this photograph, depicting small children sleeping on a filthy sidewalk, because it is inflamatory. However, it is not representative of the problem outside the downtown shelter. There is no way local law enforcement or shelter staff would allow small children to sleep on cardboard outside the shelter. In fact, I doubt whether this particular photograph was taken anywhere in this country.
    Second, the only recourse the city has of preventing homeless camps in the Rio Grande neighborhood is the enforcement of the city ordinances passed by the city’s elected officials. Camping on the sidewalk is against city ordinance because there are no sanitation resources available. Large number of campers clustered in one area is a health concern. Additionally, it is a safety concern. Drug dealers and thieves hide amongst large numbers of campers where their more serious crimes will go undetected. Camping is a decades old problem in this neighborhood and dispersement methods have worked in the past. Why don’t you go down to the shelter and interview a staffer, a cop, or homeless person before publishing a bunch of ignorant and unsupported statements?

    • G

      GraceSep 15, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      Sorry a photo of actual homelessness makes you so uncomfortable, Angie. Pretty telling as you’ve assumed there are zero homeless children in your town. It’s almost funny that you are so out of touch with the issue of homelessness that you assume this photo was taken in another country yet mustered the audacity to write an entire run-on paragraph on the subject. Not to say this is true but it truly appears you have never left the same 15 mile radius.

      Beyond just spewing city ordinance maybe consider why these ordinances have been created and enforced. The homeless have always been under attack. Making it illegal to sleep on the sidewalk is much more than avoiding a sanitary issue. It tells homeless people that their very existence is illegal and that is a very hopeless place to be. Dispersion methods do not solve the problem. They solve the problem for YOU as you no longer have to see the homeless en masse.

      Beyond sit-lie ordinance, there is an increasing architectural practice in public spaces known as hostile architecture. For example, benches with unnecessary armrests and spikes outside of buildings. All designed to avoid someone from lying down on them. By criminalizing and actively ostracizing them, you are only pushing the homeless into a very dark corner that they cannot escape.

      Do you actually know a thing about the current state of homeless shelters in your area or even in general? Why don’t you go down to the shelter and interview a staffer, a cop, or homeless person before commenting a bunch of ignorant and unsupported statements? Cheers.

      • J

        JGSep 15, 2017 at 9:22 pm

        Sorry that some people had negative experiences with homeless people so they truly do feel uncomfortable around them, Grace. It’s almost funny that you are so out of touch with the issue of homelessness that you think using a photo from my home country of the Philippines is justified to exaggerate the homeless problem in a small city in Utah. Yes, Angie is correct that the photo is from a different country. No, the homeless problem in Salt Lake City IS NOT the same as the homeless problem on the other side of the world.

        Beyond attacking legal ordinances, maybe consider that these are created and enforced for a reason. “It tells homeless people that their very existence is illegal.” Well yes, because legalizing their existence and inviting them to sleep on the streets with open arms will not solve the problem.

        Then there’s the subject of hostile architecture and sit-lie ordinance. I don’t need to be in a wheelchair to understand that a sleeping/camping homeless person on a sidewalk will obstruct my mobility device. You obviously don’t know what that’s like, but try to imagine how scared a disabled person would be if there is a potential drug addict blocking their path.

        Do you actually know a thing about the current state of homeless shelters in your area or even in general? You don’t have to. Just remember that there is a reason you don’t want them camping right outside your door. It’s hypocritical to force others to tolerate them when you don’t even plan on doing the same. Of course, I’m just assuming that you don’t welcome them camping in or near your home. Tell me you do, and I will admit my own mistake in that assumption and tell every homeless person I see that they are welcome to stay with you.

        • G

          GraceSep 15, 2017 at 10:54 pm

          Oh cute, you’re assuming I’ve never had a negative experience with a homeless person lol. I’ve been physically attacked by a homeless person more than once yet still I manage to not create a prejudice against ALL homeless people. They’re literally just human beings. Some are worse than others. I don’t understand your logic here.

          I realize the image is from Manila but let’s not act like the same imagery does not exist at all in this country. I live in LA. I see it everyday. You simply cannot act like this isn’t our problem. Maybe you can live in your little bubble in SLC but seeing as this article was written in the first place, it is your problem. Most major cities in the US struggle with this. Don’t try and distance yourself. Arguing over the origin of this photo is simply semantics.

          I definitely agree the sit-lie ordinance is there for a reason. It’s a double edged sword though. It’s there to protect everyone but it really only criminalizes one group. I really strongly disapprove of your tone around this. Why do you feel comfortable implying a human beings existence should be illegal to benefit your comfort in the city?

          Again, why have you assumed anything about my experiences? My front steps are private property so I may take issue with finding someone asleep on them in the morning. However, public sidewalks and spaces are not owned solely by you or me. I don’t feel more entitled to them because my life is going better than someone who may not have a place to sleep tonight. If you are uncomfortable with seeing someone asleep on the sidewalk then it’s great that you have the privilege of going home to to your apartment/house where you don’t have to see that. Others don’t have that option.

          If you are at all familiar with hostile architecture you would notice that it also disadvantages the disabled. Pretty solid reach though. For example, the MTA has recently remodeled the 53rd St station in Brooklyn, NY; replacing benches with “leaning bars”. Not only can someone not lay on them but you can’t sit either. I imagine that’s a bit problematic for a disabled person who relies on public transport.

          I don’t have much time nor money to support local homeless efforts but I will treat someone with the respect they deserve as a human being and nothing less. I have a hard time believing you would get so far as even making eye contact with the homeless nonetheless holding a conversation to welcome them into my home. If you can muster that though you’re welcome to.

          However I don’t see how allowing someone to sleep on my front step solves the issue. I would prefer to get them off the streets in general. And not by criminalizing them and throwing them into jail. A little humanity can go a long way.

    • M

      Michael GovernaleJun 13, 2018 at 1:16 am

      I see people sleeping in front of the Lantern house in Ogden every day. Obviously the staff is aware of it but chooses to do nothing about it.

  • A

    AndrewSep 15, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Hope the city can fix the homeless problem in a humane way

  • W

    WGSep 14, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Easy to complain and say there needs to be a solution, but what are your ideas?

    Money and drugs are the problem.
    The city could build an apartment complex and give homeless an apartment. Then make it illegal to be homeless in the city. No slerping in the park. The apartment complex would also need to be heavily patrolled by cops since it would be heaven for drug dealers.