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Safer, cleaner, less chaotic — changes coming to the Rio Grande neighborhood

Published May 20, 2017 7:44 pm

Homelessness • Strategies will mitigate crime and sanitation issues, officials say.
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A new three-pronged strategy is aimed at making the area surrounding downtown's homeless shelter safer and cleaner in the coming months.

It includes structural improvements along Salt Lake City's 500 West between 200 and 400 South, a reduction in the population of The Road Home on Rio Grande Street and an increase in county jail beds.

Together, the plans should reduce the chaos and crime in the area, according to city leaders.



"It's a coordinated effort to make things safer until the shelter closes in July 2019," said Mathew Rojas, a spokesman for Mayor Jackie Biskupski.

The mayor has included in her proposed budget some $220,000 for the 500 West makeover. Those funds, if approved by the City Council, would be available July 1.

The funding is designated for such things as brighter LED street lights, security cameras, more attended restrooms and garbage cans that can't be tipped over or moved.

The improvements, Rojas noted, came out of community discussions with business groups, residents, service providers and law enforcement.

"We're looking at ways to make a better environment," said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown. The brighter lights and security cameras "will dissuade some of the criminal activity down there."

Drug dealers, who blend into the masses there, take advantage of the segment of the homeless population that suffers from addiction, Brown noted.

The security cameras will help police separate the dealers from the addicts. They also will record license plates of buyers from across the state who make connections there.

In addition, a police bike station will be created along 500 West just south of 200 South near the Community Connection Center that serves the homeless and others. Some of the median along the street will become parking for officers and social workers who work at the center.

Other portions of the grassy median may be converted into a community garden, the chief said.

The changes will reduce areas for camping, but Brown expects that some homeless people will continue to camp out in the area.

The new trash cans and more attended portable toilets will mitigate what is a significant health concern.

"There are a lot of people who are resistant to go into the shelter," Brown said. "But our officers are down there, talking to them and trying to educate them."

Biskupski's budget also identifies $685,000 to continue Operation Diversion, a program begun last fall that seeks to identify addicts and divert them to treatment, while jailing drug dealers and criminals.

Continuation of the program was not possible without additional jail beds.

Earlier this month, the Salt Lake County Council appropriated $705,000 to Sheriff Jim Winder to send inmates to other jails, mostly in rural counties. The plan is a "temporary fix" until July, when the state and county will each contribute $2.8 million to send inmates to other jails, thereby opening up 300 more beds in Salt Lake County.

Not least, on May 9, the state Homeless Coordinating Committee voted to commit $750,000 to begin moving some 30 families out of The Road Home shelter.

Some of those families will be housed through the federal Rapid Rehousing program administered by The Road Home. Others may be housed through other non-specified programs, officials said.

"Everybody is doing their part," Rojas said. "We're checking off these big boxes ... and they're all coming at about the same time."

The Road Home is slated to close July 1, 2019.

csmart@sltrib.com

 

 

 

 

 

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