Concerned about the effect the homeless and panhandlers may have on burgeoning development in downtown Salt Lake City, business and government leaders say it may be high time to tackle the issue.
"It has to be addressed, not brushed over," Grantley Martelly, a UTA representative, said at a meeting Tuesday involving about 100 business and government leaders and city planners.
Proposals included providing the homeless with better daytime services, places to congregate, activities and treatment options.
The meeting's participants, who helped design the Salt Lake Chamber's Downtown Rising redevelopment guide for the city, reviewed draft changes to the city's 1995 master plan for downtown Salt Lake City.
Since the master plan became official, new developments have popped up such as The Gateway which is adjacent to a shelter and social services for transient and homeless people.
The Salt Lake City Planning Commission intends to make changes to the master plan, based on comments from Tuesday's meeting and from public meetings that have yet to be scheduled. The City Council will eventually adopt a revised master plan.
"The goal is to try to have something legally to adopt this spring," said Doug Dansie, a senior planner for Salt Lake City.
The proximity to and numbers of the homeless in the downtown area spurred many of the comments.
Some participants at Tuesday's meeting want the homeless better integrated into city life.
Others want them moved away.
"There's got to be a way to integrate them in the community that doesn't get in the way of new development," said David Giroux, executive director of the Downtown Merchants Association.
But Richard Wirick, owner of the Oxford Shop, recommends the homeless shelter be moved to vacant property south of downtown. The city should provide the homeless with a park and a vocational center for job training, he said.
"Homelessness seems to be the only social issue we warehouse," Dansie said, referring to the shelters.
Some cities, Dansie said, fight homelessness by trying to diagnose and treat the problems such people face. For instance, in Portland, Ore., the city works with people who suffer from mental illness or drug abuse.
David Hupe, a 41-year-old homeless man currently staying in a Salt Lake shelter, said many Utahns trying to address the problem don't understand homelessness.
Most homeless people are not violent, he said; they wander the streets in the day because shelters kick them out.
"If they could keep the shelter open in the day, a lot of guys like to read," he said. "Most are seniors anyway. And I've never seen guys my age cause trouble."
"I know the business people have a problem with the panhandlers," homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson said. "But the panhandlers aren't necessarily homeless. Many of the panhandlers get into their cars at the end of the day."
Throughout Salt Lake Valley, hundreds of transitional housing units are being built, which will take chronically homeless people off the streets.Based on comments about homeless people at the Tuesday meeting, "it sounds like we need to go back and look at it," said George Shaw, the city's planning director.