To me, this is the biggest issue Salt Lake City faces right now. Our economy is doing well, growth is happening, planning for the future is happening, and groups are coming together to create better solutions for reducing the number of homeless people in our City.
I believe a top priority is to provide housing first. Getting families and individuals out of the shelter and off the streets quickly and into a stable situation is key. If we can boost our rental assistance funds through philanthropy and City matching grants, we can make an immediate difference. We also should invest in low-income housing and look at inclusionary zoning ordinances for transit-oriented developments, where a portion of housing construction is for low-income residents. Salt Lake could lead the way, with other municipalities in Salt Lake County following suit.
Once people have a place to call their own, they can work with service providers on substance abuse recovery, mental health issues, job training and placement, and more. Again, all low-income housing does not need to be in Salt Lake City, nor do satellite shelters. They do, however, need to be located along transit lines for convenient access to services.
We shouldn’t move our core services from the downtown area either. The Road Home, 4th Street Clinic, Catholic Community Services, the Rescue Mission, Workforce Services, Volunteers of America and other social service agencies do well in proximity to each other and their accessible locations are important.
I spent a day riding with a Salt Lake Police sergeant in the Rio Grande area. Our police force is compassionate and dedicated to their job down there, getting to know many of the transient people who have taken up residence in the parks. They are focused on ensuring the safety of the many people spending time on the sidewalks, lawns and plazas in the Depot district, as well as the safety of visitors to the area; and on reducing crime, particular the drug trade that thrives in that there. The police have a very good understanding of the choreography of drug deals, and the job responsibilities of each member of dealer’s team. They’ve made numerous arrests and got nearly 20,000 doses of various drugs off the streets in July and August. Yet, Utahns from all walks of life continue to frequent the area in to purchase their next high. This is not just a Salt Lake City issue, but a critical problem for Salt Lake County and surrounding towns.
Exciting development projects are happening now in the Depot District, so the homeless and drug problems are not a deterrent to construction. However, the rampant crime and the filth of transients using the sidewalks as their toilets, are among many reasons visitors will not frequent new establishments. As we continuing our transformation into a “Great American City,” as Mayor Becker puts it, we also need to focus on the unpleasant aspects of growth and take care of all Salt Lakers.
The Crossroads Urban Center recently unveiled their plan for reducing homelessness and increasing safety in the neighborhoods around the shelter. It’s impressive and ambitious. Take a look here. And the Pioneer Park Coalition, a group of Pioneer Park stakeholders, has been working to revitalize the Park and make it a safe, family-friendly areas 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Mayor’s Homeless Services Site Evaluation Committee launched in January of this year and will make a report in November, seeking public input on their recommendations.