SALT LAKE CITY — A prominent advocate for the homeless wants more information about new rules of conduct at The Gateway after a change in ownership, adding that she's worried about the possibility that such policies may turn out to be hostile to transients in the area.
Pamela Atkinson, former vice president for mission services at Intermountain Healthcare and namesake of the Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust Fund, has said she hopes the new mall owners aren't looking for ways to crack down on the nearby homeless population.
Atkinson's main concern is the prospect of a dress code designed to be prohibitive to homeless people.
"I’m not quite really sure how they can tell if somebody’s homeless or not," she said.
Vestar, the Arizona real estate firm that took over The Gateway earlier this month, confirmed there is a dress code and released a statement responding to Atkinson's concern. However, the company didn't specify what restrictions are in place as part of the dress code or the mall's code of conduct.
"As customary with all of our assets, The Gateway is private property and will be operated in a manner to provide a safe, comfortable and family-friendly environment," said Denise Hart, vice president of marketing for Vestar, as part of a prepared statement. "All of our shopping centers have code of conduct policies, procedures and hours of operation that are adaptable to ensure our customers, employees and visitors have a first-class experience.We are working diligently with local government and business leaders, along with various community organizations to ensure that our interest are aligned so that we may accomplish our goals."
Atkinson said she is also worried about the possibility that homeless people may be restricted from restrooms at the mall. She said she and other advocates for the homeless advise transients against undressing to wash themselves in public restrooms not built for that purpose.
"We discourage that because we do have showers over at the at the Wiegand Homeless Day center across the street," she said.
Atkinson said she wants to see transparency about any new mall policies that may affect the homeless. She said transients "can appear intimidating," but shouldn't be singled out.
A City Creek Center official said the dress code there requires mallgoers to wear shoes and clothing that otherwise covers them. Clothing with obscenities is also prohibited at City Creek.
William Feller, who frequently sits in his wheelchair on public property just off the premises of The Gateway, was permanently banned from the shopping center more than a decade ago for panhandling. Feller said he feels safer near the mall as opposed to nearby homeless shelters and doesn't believe it's unreasonable for The Gateway to impose a dress code.
Feller hasn't been affected by the new mall ownership or any resulting policy changes, he said.
"Security has walked by me three times this morning and haven't said a word to me," Feller said Friday.
Dan Ashby, a shopper at The Gateway, said that concerning the dress code issue, he's torn between the importance of respecting the mall's private business interests and being careful not to discriminate against the homeless population.
"That's a tough one," Ashby said.
Contributing: Jed Boal