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Lawmakers and other state leaders who influence policies and budgets spend a good part of their public lives sitting in committee meetings, listening to advocates seek money for various causes.

But that doesn't give them as complete a view as seeing a real problem, in real time, face to face.

So it was fortuitous that Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, happened to be walking with Salt Lake City Deputy Police Chief Fred Ross and LDS Church lobbyist Bill Evans near a downtown homeless shelter Tuesday when all hell broke loose.

Hughes admittedly has a short attention span. Meetings can be boring. But if it was action he wanted, he got it.

At Ross' request, the lawmaker spoke to a group of homeless people at a police resource center on 200 South and about 450 West, across the street from The Road Home shelter in the shadow of The Gateway shopping center.

When he finished his talk and walked outside toward Rio Grande Street, Hughes said he saw several criminal acts taking place in broad daylight, just a few feet from him.

"We were with Chief Ross, who was in full police uniform," Hughes said. "Bill and I were in suits and ties. We probably looked like federal agents. Nobody cared. They were doing drug deals, whatever."

Ross said the many homeless ranks congregating around the shelter and nearby Pioneer Park attract all sorts of criminal activity, with the homeless usually as victims. Dealers hide among the folks lining up to reserve a bed for the night. They do their deals, they rob those in line and they operate scams that steal folks' identities.

Hughes has heard the stories, but he had no idea how bad and blatant the problems are.

As Hughes started to return to his car at the Gateway parking lot, he and his companions heard a commotion as about 80 people congregated in the middle of Rio Grande Street.

Ross said he saw two umbrellas flying in the air, then a man emerged from the crowd, walking toward him, with the side of his head bleeding profusely.

Ross radioed for backup then went to the injured man to assist him while also calling for an ambulance.

The crowd ambled down the street, away from Ross, but the victim was able to identify "the big guy walking away" who had assaulted him. Ross yelled at that man to stop, but he bolted. Ross caught up and captured him.

The suspect's backpack contained $3,761 in cash, 390 balloons of heroin and 158 balloons of crack cocaine. He now is in jail facing numerous felony charges.

Said Hughes: "The state needs to get involved. This is a state problem in terms of the social costs."

Tuesday's events have the House speaker considering funding options for real solutions. He is talking about setting up a perimeter around the shelter with social-service agencies on site. The area would be secured with guards, and only those with approved identification cards would be allowed to enter.

For now, it's an idea. But it was spawned by a real-life action scene.