SLC Mayor condemns sprinklers turned on homeless camp

Feb 28, 2020, 3:17 PM
Leonardo homeless sprinkler...
Representatives from the Leonardo Museum are defending turning on the sprinklers while people from a homeless encampment were still on the lawn. Photo credit: Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the city is investigating after sprinklers turned on near a homeless camp. The sprinkler system went off in front of the Leonardo Museum of Innovation and Creativity, on 209 E. and 500 S.,  Friday morning where people were camped out in front.

A representative from the Leonardo who spoke with, said the problem began with the unusually warm weather in Salt Lake City this spring.

“When the warmer weather comes, we have to do standard maintenance with our sprinkler system,” said Havilah Clarke, Leonardo spokeswoman. “That requires running the water for approximately 20 minutes.”

Clarke says the problem on Friday morning mirrored a problem she said the museum had every day of last year. The problem is there were people encamped on the strip of lawn that was about to be watered.

“At 8 a.m., our facilities team went out to the strip where there is the encampment, notified everyone that we needed to do a test with the water system, and to please take their belongings and vacate the premises,” Clark said.

Clarke says they made a similar announcement at 8:30 a.m., and then, per instructions from Salt Lake City, they contacted the police department.

After a third request to vacate the area, Clarke said, the museum waited another 15 minutes and turned the water on. Clark said she believes that the police ended up turning the water off.

“As far as we are aware no one got wet,” she said to

Mayor Mendenhall saw it happen

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall told KSL Newsradio that she was driving on 500 South in front of the Leonardo museum on Friday morning, and saw the sprinklers come on near the homeless camp.

“I parked at City Hall and was immediately calling and texting my staff,” she said. “Sprinklers is not a way to move people out of an area.”

Mayor Mendenhall said she cannot say with certainty if what the Leonardo has described is actually what happened.

“We’re still digging into this,” she told KSL Newsradio.

The building which houses the Leonardo is leased from Salt Lake City government. Mayor Mendenhall said her office will now contact every business that leases property from the city to assure the renters know turning sprinklers on people is not appropriate.

Standard practice

Clarke said that the museum has to water its lawn every day when the weather gets warm. She says that the protocols their facilities team followed on Friday haven’t changed since last summer.

She also said that the museum is committed to solving the homeless problem.

“Five years ago to this day, we launched our ‘No Fixed Address’ exhibit, that gave a voice and a face to the people who are unsheltered,” Clarke said. “We convened more than 20 organizations that are committed to fighting homelessness and worked to both dispel myths about the population, inform the public and also to inspire action.”‘

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SLC Mayor condemns sprinklers turned on homeless camp