SALT LAKE CITY — On Thursday, Utah's Department of Public Safety used a helicopter to lift thousands of pounds of trash left behind at homeless camps from a hillside.
The operation was the first of its kind, officials said, and needed to happen after recent homeless camps have "gotten out of control," creating a public health crisis.
A number of homeless camps have popped up along the hillside just northwest of the state Capitol near Beck Street and Victory Road in Salt Lake City, leaving the waste in their wake.
"(We're) doing a major cleanup on the side of the hill up there," said Kerry Cramer, the supervisor of the bureau of sanitation for the Salt Lake County Health Department. "(The) number of homeless camps that we’ve been forced to clean up because they’ve just gotten out of control (is) creating a health problem.”
Cleaning up homeless camps on the hillside is nothing new, but bringing in a chopper to haul away the thousands of pounds of stuff has never been done before.
"There is quite a bit out there. It’s surprising how much," said DPS chief pilot Luke Bowman. "Biggest challenge we have today is a little bit of wind."
Work release inmates from the county jail were brought in to help clean up the camps. They hiked their way into the location and filled dozens of orange bags that were piled onto a net that the helicopter would then pick up and take to the bottom of the hill.
Those bags were later loaded into two huge dump trucks to be taken to the landfill.4 comments on this story
"We are looking at tons of solid waste. Some of the camps have been up here a long time, and the longer they’ve been here the more stuff they accumulate. So it just reaches a critical mass. Something has to be done," Cramer said.
One worker said she couldn’t believe the amount of junk crews were pulling out of makeshift houses located in discreet areas.
Health officials said for the past two weeks they've been getting the word out to those living on the mountainside so that they could gather their belongings while the operation got underway. Relief organizations have been helping those people find other living arrangements.