This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
At a recent meeting, a staff member for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski stated that the county and Mayor Ben McAdams were considering using drones to seek out homeless camps in the mountains.
House Speaker Greg Hughes wants to send the Utah National Guard to engage with the mentally ill and battle drug dealers in the Rio Grande area. All this is in addition to the bi-weekly sweeps by the Salt Lake City Police, accompanied by the Health Department and its bulldozers and other heavy equipment. This effort is supported by an army of social workers, healthcare providers and numerous volunteers.
Despite all of this action, street folks still gather and sleep in the parks and on sidewalks and roam the streets. The addicted and the drug dealers continue to ride TRAX and gather in the Rio Grande area and nothing appears to be changing. In fact, it seems to be getting worse.
It's just business as usual surrounded by even more chaos created by impulsive military type reactions that makes us uncomfortable. These reactions haven't led to a positive change and have actually increased the degree of chaos.
But there is hope. In the middle of all this chaos, there is an ever increasing number of street folks leaving The Road Home, The Rescue Mission and scattered campsites three mornings a week to gather at the Salt Lake City Main Library or Gallivan Center to do Tai Chi. This started about eight months ago with a simple idea about how to attract and engage with this hard-to-work-with population. As a result of this effort something started happening.
The first change was the number of street folks and what was happening around the library. We started with one, and then two and before long the street folks were bringing their friends. Within four months, we had over 40 people who would normally be wandering the streets participating in a physical activity created to promote mental healing and physical well-being.
The street folks, who normally waited on the corner of 200 East and 400 South, disappeared. They were no longer sitting around, but busy doing something together in a social setting that encouraged structured relationships between a wide-range of people dealing with a number of issues. You name it and someone in our group is dealing with it: PTSD, schizophrenia, poor physical health, aging, addiction and recovery, autism and a number of trauma-induced conditions, as well as those temporarily homeless for any number of reasons.
During the hot days of summer, we've moved temporarily to the Gallivan Center. The program is exploring new ideas about a connection between all human behavior and motion. It is based on new ideas about how the brain functions, and in application encourages personal experimentation in learning to deal with anxiety created by change.
We plan to add a second program in the Rio Grande area. This expansion is possible because of the willingness of four current participants to assume leadership positions. Christopher, Josh and John and Chris, current residents of The Road Home, will help lead the programs.
The use of drones or more policing, or throwing more money at what hasn't worked doesn't bring about change. New ideas successfully applied bring about real change. That's what we think we're doing and we're doing it by partnering with those trapped in homelessness. If an idea has merit it works, and if it works, those it works with should become the experts in how the ideas are applied.
If the ideas work, people in the area will know it, because something will start looking a little different. Perhaps then, there'll be a little less chaos.
Marita and Bernie Hart, Salt Lake City, are exploring new ideas about how the human brain functions and doing it by directly working with people dealing with a number of issues, such as autism, homelessness and imprisonment.