Take Shelter Coalition Clashes with SLCPD in a Downtown Protest

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Take Shelter Coalition Clashes with SLCPD in a Downtown Protest

Homeless individuals outside the Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City. Chronicle archive.

Homeless individuals outside the Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City. Chronicle archive.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Homeless individuals outside the Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City. Chronicle archive.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Homeless individuals outside the Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City. Chronicle archive.

By Joseph Moss, News Writer

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 “We came to camp and to help people. The cops came to tear stuff down, attack and brutalize people, which they did,” said Finn Ballum, an organizer for the Take Shelter Coalition.

On Jan. 3, the Take Shelter Coalition set up an encampment in Washington Square Park, with the goal of aiding the homeless population in downtown Salt Lake. However, as the encampment bled into Jan. 4, the Salt Lake City Police Department came to enforce the curfew law. After a 2 1/2 hour standoff, SLCPD moved in to clear out the encampment. Some members of the encampment resisted, which lead to 17 individuals being arrested.

“The protest was in an occupy style. The biggest issue was the encampment was illegal and conflicted with curfew laws,” said SLCPD Public Information Officer Sergeant Keith Horrocks. “We [SLCPD] arrived Saturday evening and spoke to protesters for 2 1/2 hours over loudspeakers.” 

“We told them ‘beds are available to those that need it.’ We also had social workers there to help for those that were accepting. After 11 we moved in to systematically remove everyone. A few skirmishes happened from those that were resisting,” Horrocks said. 

Of those skirmishes, “Two rounds were fired form a foam baton, and two shots from a FN303, that being similar to a paintball gun,” Horrocks explained. “Those shots, however, were only fired off in response to aggression. We slowly and methodically ushered people out of the park boundaries until about 1:30 a.m. Our officers showed restraint in enforcing the curfew.”

This narrative, however, is not the same given by the Take Shelter Coalition. “It didn’t really start as a protest,” Ballum said. “Really it started as a camp we set up on early Friday morning at about 4 a.m.”

“And for the next 44 hours we were camped out providing warmth and shelter to unsheltered people. We had food, at least two hot meals a day, as well as snacks [and] medical first aid,” Ballum said. They also set up a medical tent to treat drug abuse and effects from the exposure to cold, including hypothermia. 

Another concern of the Take Shelter Coalition was security. “That was a big thing, because we’ve noticed that every couple days, sometimes even daily, the police will be out there raiding people’s camps and taking their survival gear very early in the morning at the library plaza, which is public property. So, for the time we were there, the police were not able to take people’s stuff until the very end.”

Ballum said that the group was strategic about setting up a camp in their specific location. “There’s something kind of special about being encamped where we were on,” they said. “You know the city’s front lawn, right out in front of former mayor  [Jackie] Biskupski’s office and current mayor [Erin] Mendenhall’s office. An occupation really allows us to provide resources that we’re able to provide.” 

“We had the ability to bring medical students and nurses as medical staff to provide safe care as well as food and shelter in tents,” they said. “So that was kind of something you don’t really get with the protest.”

“You usually don’t see riot police coming up to break curfew,” Ballum said, recalling the night. “What happened was we set up our camp and we were taking care of people and the police knew full well that they needed a militarized force to come in and break up our camp.”

“Not every law is a just law. And we definitely think that in a kind of crisis like this where we have people unsheltered, there aren’t enough shelter beds,” Ballum said. “In this situation we’re trying to fight for people’s rights and this camp represented that, so when police take this camp down it’s representative with what side the police are on.”

SLCPD views the situation differently. 

“We [SLCPD] don’t disagree with the ‘we need more beds’ narrative. The reason we enforced curfew was for public safety reasons. So, if we could’ve come to an agreement, we would have,” Horrocks said.

“A lot of members of the Take Shelter Coalition [has] been targeted by police and they’re never given us the time of day, so we don’t want to take part in something where they just turn it into a PR move,” Ballum said.

In the meantime, members of the Take Shelter Coalition says they will keep “fighting and struggle to actually achieve our demands and to get the police to stop.”

 

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