This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As a community that values open space and wants to best protect vulnerable homeless populations, we should strongly oppose any effort to locate a homeless shelter in the Jordan River corridor. Shockingly, three of the proposed homeless shelter sites are immediately adjacent to the parking lots and trails that service the Jordan River Parkway. (Two of these proposed sites are in West Valley City; one is in South Salt Lake). This is cause for alarm!
We need to help the homeless. As a community we need to find the best site possible. However, around the country there is ample evidence that homeless shelters near rivers are a disaster. It is too easy for those who prey on the homeless to entrench themselves and hide in such areas, exacerbating the substance abuse and mental health challenges already faced by our homeless populations.
In Tacoma, Wash., shelters near the Puyallup River have led to a spillover effect resulting in numerous encampments causing health, sanitation and safety issues. In the Springwater Corridor of Portland, Ore., they have removed an estimated 2,000 homeless camps in the past four years, and they still can't keep up. E. coli counts in the rivers near homeless camps are unhealthily high, exacerbating environmental concerns beyond mere litter. Homeless shelters and rivers don't mix!
We can't make this same mistake in Utah. In 2008, concerned citizens and leaders from around the valley participated in a process resulting in a Blueprint Jordan River. A homeless shelter on the Jordan River Parkway would be in direct violation of the buffers and uses called for in the guiding principles of that strategic plan.
For the past decade our region has made great strides in cleaning up the Jordan River, especially since the collaborative Jordan River Commission was created in 2010. We have seen enhancements to trails, open space, and invasive species removal along its banks.
But perhaps one of the biggest improvements along the river corridor has been the increased law enforcement and clean-up of illicit activities. The thick, shady shrubbery along the river had long been a hiding place for homeless camps, prostitution and drug use. With the help of the many governments vested in the river, huge progress has been made. Putting a homeless shelter there would decimate years of community effort.
Since completing my term as mayor of West Valley City in 2014, I have chaired the Pioneer Crossing Park Committee. Working with stakeholders from city, county, water districts, utilities and more we have encouraged the building out of a master plan for an open space park that will be between the Utah Cultural Celebration Center and the river. A few months ago, the Salt Lake County Council and mayor announced that this Pioneer Crossing Park will receive $3 million in Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) funding to be developed as envisioned. This park commemorates the first pioneer encampments west of the Jordan River, will have a group pavilion, campsites for families and scout groups to use and trail connections to the Jordan River Parkway and Redwood Nature Area.
Imagine the outrage if a homeless shelter was proposed adjacent to This is the Place State Park. Pioneer Crossing Park is our west side's "This is the Place." Please don't threaten overrunning one of our area's few historic sites.
Consider the heads that would explode if a homeless shelter was announced next to Dimple Dell Regional Park in Sandy. The open space and crime concerns for that scenario are the same we have for the Jordan River area.
Think of what a nonstarter it would be to put a homeless shelter next to Willow Park in Lehi Utah County's campground along the Jordan River. Why would we even think about putting a homeless shelter next to Salt Lake County's soon to be built Jordan River campground?
I appreciate Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and the site selection committee receiving local input as they do a tough job. I'm pleased that they are meeting with and listening to local leaders. There is no perfect location. But clearly the final site should be far away from any regional open space that the whole valley shares including one as sensitive as the Jordan River.
Rep. Mike Winder represents House District 30 (West Valley City) in the Utah House of Representatives.