SALT LAKE CITY — For about a year, Craig Lloyd has lived in the foothills, after spurning the homeless shelter in downtown Salt Lake City.
"I came up here with nothing except a backpack," Lloyd said. "The shelter … it's just too crowded, too much noise, too (many) fights."
In the mountains, Lloyd said, it's easy to spread out, and keep what he has accumulated since last summer.
"I have a lot more room for food and clothes," he said.
Of the dozens of people who live by him, Lloyd said, "everybody has a tent," and they get along.
But citing the unkempt campsites as a public safety hazard, law enforcement and health authorities on Thursday coordinated a massive cleanup where Lloyd lives — in the foothills just north of the state Capitol, a short distance off Victory Road on the way out of Salt Lake City.
Several agencies combined to haul away more than 160,000 pounds of litter by about noon, officials estimated.
Blankets, shoes, suitcases, bicycles, car parts, camping gear, furniture, propane tanks, tires, shopping carts, needles and even a full loaf of bread still in its case were a small sampling of the everyday items strewn about in a series of homeless camps on the hillside. Somehow, a residential light post, several feet long, was also among the debris.
"Anything you can imagine is here," Salt Lake police detective Greg Wilking said.
Those participating in the cleanup effort included the Salt Lake City police and public services departments, the sheriff's office and health department from the county, as well as public safety, transportation and workforce services officials from the state.
The cleanup was expected to continue most of Friday.
"The key is, we've been making contact with these people in these camps the last couple months, offering them services and letting them know the cleanup is coming," Wilking told the Deseret News.
Those warnings intensified in the last week, Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp said.
Lloyd was among a small handful of stragglers who remained Thursday morning to take the last of their belongings off of the mountain to keep them from being thrown away. He didn't resent the cleanup effort, he said.
"What can you do about it?" Lloyd said. "Everybody knew it was coming."
Wilking said "we haven't had real issues with anybody" while overseeing the cleanup.
Fourteen supervised inmates from the Salt Lake County Jail were on hand to help clear the campsites.
Rupp didn't know precisely how many homeless campers lived in the area, but said there were about 15 campsites with about three to four tents each.
"Basically they have been making … living quarters up here," Wilking said.
The presence of drug paraphernalia and human waste is considered a significant public health issue, according to Rupp. Other items left on the mountain can also corrode and affect the soil, he said. During wildfire season, the camps are also a fire hazard, Wilking said.
Dale Keller, environmental health bureau manager for the county health department, estimated a separate cleanup on the hillside in April yielded roughly 300,000 to 400,000 pounds of debris that needed to be hauled away.
On occasion, when they come across some campers, Keller said "we'll invite them to have lunch with us."
"This isn't us (versus) them," he said. "It's just (that it's) a public health hazard."
Rupp said two to three homeless camp cleanups of this scale are conducted each year in the county. The foothills near Victory Road undergo a cleanup each year, and campsites near the Jordan River and in City Creek Canyon are also frequent targets, he said.
Rupp said the amount of litter discovered in the foothills Thursday is roughly "on par" with what he's seen other years since he first began participating in cleanups with the county health department in 2011.
Cleanup officials didn't expect this week's effort to keep the area completely devoid of campers forever, but they were hopeful the help offered to those leaving would make a significant difference long term. As residents prepared to move out of the area, "we have absolutely flooded this hill with social services people," Keller said.
Salt Lake City police spokeswoman Christina Judd agrees. Police department outreach teams and social workers have made frequent trips to the hillside, Judd said, and 21 campers accepted the invitation for social services of some kind in the days leading up to the cleanup.13 comments on this story
The help offered included referrals for mental health services, drug addiction treatment and shelter options, as well as smaller items, such as assistance getting a state identification card, Judd said.
With some help, Lloyd said, "I've already applied for housing." In the short term, he planned to start living again at the Road Home downtown starting Thursday night. Though he left that shelter once, Lloyd, having been homeless off and on for decades, is used to moving around and ready to give it another shot there.
"It's the longest I've been on the street," he said of his past year. "So it's time for a change."