Last week, Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Police Chief Mike Brown unveiled their plan for keeping crime under control near the Road Home homeless shelter on Rio Grande Street downtown.
It's a step in the right direction, but more is needed as summer approaches.
We’re glad to see the attention to a part of the city that has bordered on complete chaos during recent summers, with drug deals in broad daylight and various other crimes that have vexed area residents and business owners. Whether their plan is effective will become evident as temperatures heat up, but it's likely that what's needed is a greater permanent police presence in the area and inside the Road Home shelter facility.
One hopes city leaders are flexible enough to pivot and change strategies as events warrant.
No city should have to endure the crime and vagrancy that has plagued Rio Grande and the streets surrounding it. It has been, most of all, hard on the homeless people who come into the area in legitimate need of humanitarian care, and who often find themselves preyed upon instead.
While we are glad to see this attention to the problem, concerns linger. The core of the plan seems to focus on brighter streetlights, surveillance cameras, more restrooms and garbage cans and a redesign of the median in front of the shelter, allowing parking for police and social workers. These will mean little without also greatly increasing the police presence in the area, and without a maintenance budget that keeps restrooms and other facilities clean and in good repair.
Salt Lake City has, at various times over many decades, invested large sums to build restrooms and other improvements in nearby Pioneer Park, only to see them degraded or destroyed. Ongoing attention is needed.
We wish the mayor and police chief had worked more closely with Sheriff Jim Winder, who has outlined a more ambitious plan for crime control in the area. Winder has proposed setting up a closely monitored urban campground in the neighborhood. His idea was that police who shoo people from camping on public sidewalks ought to have a place they can send them. What is the city’s plan for such people?
The city stresses that these extra security measures are temporary, and that they will cease when the Road Home closes in 2019 after new homeless shelters open in locations throughout Salt Lake County. However, it is likely the neighborhood, which still contains other service providers and is in close proximity to rail and bus lines, will continue to attract an influx of the homeless and vagrants. Extra attention will be needed for some time to come, although hopefully not to the extent of current needs.
Salt Lake leaders are to be commended for the attention they are giving the Rio Grande area during the upcoming summer months. But this must be only a first step as leaders adapt to events as they unfold this summer.