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In our opinion: Pioneer Park progress is slow and steady

Published: Monday, Dec. 2 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Salt Lake City Police officers Bradley Shupe, left, Drew Hadley, center, and Nate Swensen talk while patrolling at Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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With the change in season come signs of change to the environment around Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park, where city officials have promised to resolve long-standing problems of drug use, panhandling, petty crime and the not-infrequent felony crime.

A recent report in the Deseret News cited some measure of progress from the perspective of city officials and area residents. But there was acknowledgment the problem may simply appear to be waning as colder weather arrives, reducing all levels of activity at the park.

In calling for more efforts to wrest control of the situation, we note that progress will be slow, and will come only as a result of a disciplined commitment to battling the root causes of the problem as well as its symptoms. The city has acted as if it is wise to that reality, committing more law enforcement and social services resources to the area. It will take time to see if the efforts will be fruitful.

A step in the right direction has been the marshaling of so-called “clean teams” to frequently patrol the park and the surrounding Depot District to pick up litter and perform various maintenance chores. From a psychological perspective alone, making sure the streets are literally clean will fortify efforts to figuratively clean them of the kinds of activity that have left the area with a reputation for seediness.

On that front, the police department’s Homeless Outreach Services Team has diligently gone forth to locate those who do not voluntarily avail themselves of various services in order to get them to a place where short-term and long-term assistance is available. That effort is commendable and should be continued in perpetuity, given that the larger problems that lead to homelessness are not likely to go away.

In the same vein, the police department deserves credit for stepping up efforts to combat the area’s drug trade. The drug problem is not a result of the homeless problem, but they are connected. Many of those who frequent the park are homeless because of drug dependency, and drug dealers have come to regard the park as a place where potential customers may be found.

It’s probably too soon to quantify the success of these efforts with statistics on arrest warrants or rates of homelessness. But anecdotally, there is the appearance of progress. “I’d say overall things are improving,” Dennis Kelsch of Catholic Community Services of Utah told The Deseret News. He added, “We still got a long way to go.”

And so it is critical the city remain on the road it has chosen to take. The park lies at the heart of an up-and-coming district with the potential to be one of the city’s most alluring and prosperous neighborhoods. More importantly, city leaders deserve credit for understanding that in order to fix problems at the park, it must work to help fix the problems facing those who have chosen to migrate to the park as a place of lonely refuge.

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