Homeless camp cleared in Salt Lake, camp residents believe they should have been left alone

Feb 17, 2022, 7:22 PM
(The camp before being cleared from under a freeway overpass in Salt Lake.  Photo: KSL TV)...
(The camp before being cleared from under a freeway overpass in Salt Lake. Photo: KSL TV)
(The camp before being cleared from under a freeway overpass in Salt Lake. Photo: KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — A busy homeless camp near downtown Salt Lake is cleared out by county health workers, which is drawing heavy criticism from some homeless community advocates.  They believe the camp was not a danger to the public and it should have been left alone.

Homeless camp cleared

Health officials say clearing the camp along 700 West between 500 South and 600 South was more chaotic than expected.  It was a large camp that the Salt Lake County Health Department had been watching for a while.

Environmental Health Bureau Manager Dale Keller said, “We’ve been sitting on this for some time to make sure that there was appropriate housing for these individuals.  There’s over 100 beds, right now, at the overflow facility.”

While there, workers found many public health issues, which is common in homeless camps.

“It was the normal stuff… garbage, trash, feces and needles,” he said.

(Police keeping people out of the area while the camp was cleared. Photo: Paul Nelson)

Camp residents say crime was not an issue there

Keller also says they’ve heard of an uptick in crime, but some camp residents refute that.  One woman, Savannah, acknowledges that tent cities can be extremely dangerous places. However, she claims their camp didn’t have the same kinds of assaults, thefts and drug use found in other places.

“We didn’t have problems with the cops because it was our place, where we live,” she said.

Other homeless community advocates say this group had more resources than other camps, including a heating trailer and a charging station.  They say the group did a good job evenly dividing all of the donations that came in and keeping things as clean as possible.  Essentially, Savannah says they were doing a perfectly fine job of governing themselves and they weren’t a nuisance to others.

She said, “We all had jobs we had to do.  We would all find something to do.  Me and my cousin, if there was a problem, we would go handle it.”

Even if there are enough beds in shelters, some advocates say many homeless will never go back to one.  Nomad Alliance Executive Director Kseniya Kniazeva says there have been too many attacks in resource centers in the past, and safety is never guaranteed.  She once heard a wheelchair bound veteran tell her about the time he was attacked in a shower and his chair was taken from him

“[We’ve heard about] everything from violence and abuse to someone’s boots stolen from under their beds as they sleep,” she said.

Kniazeva also says shelter managers place strict rules on the guests and people are kicked out for minor violations.  She advocates for cities to set aside sanctioned campsites where shelter-resistant people can stay without fear of being forced to leave.

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Homeless camp cleared in Salt Lake, camp residents believe they should have been left alone