View 1 Item
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Mayor Jackie Biskupski delivers the State of the City address at the Marmalade Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Where does the buck stop when it comes to homelessness around Salt Lake City’s Rio Grande neighborhood?

You might think that is a simple question. You would be wrong.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski told the combined editorial boards of the Deseret News and KSL on Monday that it stops “with all of us — the state, the county the city elected officials. We’re all doing our part.”

That may explain why Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder’s 21-point plan for reducing crime around Rio Grande — immediately, not when the shelter closes in 2019 — hasn’t gotten so much as a hearing yet.

Asked about the plan, Biskupski said, “I don’t have any opinion on that.”

She said it should have gone through the Collective Impact Committee, a group of various stakeholders charged with fixing the homeless crisis, headed by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. Biskupski said she hasn’t even spoken with Winder about it.

But McAdams won’t put Winder’s plan on the committee’s agenda because, as his spokesman told Deseret News reporter Katie McKellar, the committee “is not a criminal focus group."

This is what happens when the buck stops with all of us. It just sort of just keeps floating around in the air.

I have been critical of all those angry people who packed public hearings in opposition to a possible new homeless shelter in their neighborhoods. (Frankly, I’m still disappointed with the people of Draper, who seemed to react against homelessness in general.) But it’s becoming easier each day to see why people would be skeptical of the politicians assuring them everything will be all right.

Things are not all right on Rio Grande, or in much of the rest of downtown.

We all know the plans for the future. The city, county and state will build three new homeless shelters in various parts of the valley, then hope to raise enough money for housing units to transition people from the street to a better life. The Road Home on Rio Grande will close in 2019.

But while everyone is poring over architectural plans, the existing house is on fire, and no one seems interested in grabbing a bucket.

As spring segues to summer and temperatures rise, a lot of people worry the crime problem on Rio Grande and surrounding streets will blossom into something even worse than in the past.

If so, that may be about the time Biskupski unleashes her new campaign to stop panhandling — putting up signs urging people to text a number for information on how to really help, instead of giving money that likely would feed addictions.

It’s almost identical to what Deedee Corradini tried as mayor in the 1990s, a plan that failed miserably as business owners declined to put the signs in their storefronts.

This will be different, Biskupski said, because of the unique social media aspect. When I pressed her, she said, “Even though you don’t think this will be helpful, we’re going to try it.”

Well, then.

Tiffanie Provost, a board member of the Pioneer Park Coalition, made up of downtown business owners, told the same combined editorial boards in a separate meeting that the time to change the system is now, not in two years. We can’t keep doing the same things, hoping for different results.

“If we cannot hold the Road Home to the certain rules that we’re going to … hold the new shelters to, how would we ever think that all of a sudden the same people are going to change their management style just because you give them a new location and a new building?”

It’s a good question.

7 comments on this story

If no one will listen to or even debate a sheriff who has a detailed plan for controlling crime around the existing shelter, how serious are politicians about solving a problem anyone riding the Blue Line downtown can see in vivid detail?

Which brings us back to that elusive buck.

Pioneer Park Coalition head Scott Howell, a former Democratic state lawmaker, is certain where it ought to stop.

“The buck should stop with the mayor.”

Jay Evensen is the senior editorial columnist at the Deseret News. Email him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his website, jayevensen.com.