Salt Lake City initiatives to fight crime, aid homeless get mixed reviews

Published: Sunday, Nov. 24 2013 10:15 a.m. MST

In general, Salt Lake City police officers have handled their stepped-up patrols with “common sense and compassion,” Minkevitch said.

Recently, an officer encouraged people hanging out in the area to help pick up trash.

“It was a beautiful thing to watch. There was this officer joking and cajoling people there saying, ‘Let’s get this picked up.’ In a matter of minutes, there was a collective of people helping. It almost had the feeling of a neighborhood,” Minkevitch said.

Small steps are making a difference, but the long-term solution to homelessness is permanent supportive housing, he said.

While government and nonprofit partners have made great strides in the past decade in housing people considered chronically homeless, the pace has slowed the past couple of years, Minkevitch said.

“The most effective strategy is housing; there’s no two ways about that. We can get there. We will get there, without a doubt,” he said.

Elizabeth Buehler, the city’s newly named homeless services coordinator, said there are efforts on multiple fronts to serve the homeless yet ensure the Depot District is safe and inviting to residents, visitors and business traffic.

A three-month research project is underway to evaluate strategies being used by the city. Salt Lake officials have also reached out to other cities to explore how they provide services to homeless populations in urban settings.

Buehler, who has been on the job less than two months, said she has been impressed with government and nonprofit service providers' willingness to work together on the issue.

There have been some successes on the short term, such as the work of Valley Services cleaning up the area and changing the landscaping on the traffic median along 500 West. Obviously, the big gear solutions hinge on agencies' abilities to house people in settings where they receive supportive services, Buehler said.

While visiting Los Angeles recently, a group of Salt Lake City officials toured a facility that assists people who have recently been released from hospitals. They recuperate in supportive housing and eventually graduate into on-site apartments.

Salt Lake's efforts with respect to the Depot District are just getting started, and already there have been some successes, Buehler said.

“We’re just getting this off the ground, and we’re not stopping. We’re saying we can do more. For me, it’s exciting. It’s nice to be able to help people,” she said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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