This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Buried under the distraction of the long-standing and childish feud between Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown over who is at fault for the exploding downtown homeless problem is an actual plan to fix it.
You'd barely know it by listening to the whining and finger-pointing produced by dueling press conferences. But the actual ideas are worth a closer look.
Most would agree that when it comes to Utah's homeless population, and others in need of mental and drug rehabilitation treatment, Salt Lake sees more than its fair share of the problem.
These populations are served downtown for a reason. The Volunteers of America Utah Youth Resource Center, located downtown, operates a daytime drop-in center for youth to find meals, showers, laundry and other basic needs. The Road Home, the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake and the Weigand Homeless Resource Center of Catholic Community Services are also in Salt Lake. The large-scale housing-first programs like Palmer Court are in Salt Lake.
Salt Lake is Utah's major transportation hub, and the destination of many out-of-state wanderers. The Community Connection Center in Salt Lake houses the police department's mental health and substance abuse unit. You get the idea.
Which is why the county's request to the Legislature for two-thirds of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative funding, more than its per capita share, is reasonable and necessary.
The Legislature intended the JRI to reduce penalties for drug crimes and direct those savings from jail beds to mental health and drug treatment beds. With $8 million of those funds, Salt Lake County says it could create a separate court for misdemeanor charges where defendants could choose to get treatment instead of jail time. The county could extend its in-home supervision of high-risk clients. The county could provide police officers access to behavioral health professionals to help with psychiatric calls. And the extra funds could double the behavioral health treatment beds available from 10 to 20.
The county has objective goals and programs, and each program is part of the bigger plan. This plan could help alleviate the chaos downtown. If we don't cure the problem in Salt Lake, it could spread to other counties throughout the state. Even the Rebel fleet knew enough to target the main reactor in the Death Star's core.
The Legislature should approve the county's $8 million request and concentrate the firepower on Utah's core Salt Lake County.