Utah lawmaker evaluating needs of SLC’s homeless witnesses assault; cops seize heroin, crack and cash

Posted at 9:46 PM, May 29, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- A drug bust in downtown Salt Lake City played out right in front of Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes.

Tuesday, Hughes was taking a walking tour of the Rio Grande district when authorities said he and police stumbled upon an alleged dealer.

“It is shocking to me,” Hughes said. “I was in a suit and tie and shirt, with a fully uniformed police officer, and it didn’t seemed to deter some of the activity going on around us.”

Hughes was visiting the Road Home Shelter, as part of his work on the Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission. Tasked with addressing the needs of the homeless community, Hughes and the commission are debating whether or not to move the shelter from its current location.

After meeting with shelter staff and others, police offered to take Hughes around the neighborhood. That is when they walked right into an alleged assault.

“I saw a scuffle,” Hughes said. “It looked like a fight that occurred.”

According to Deputy Chief Fred Ross, who runs the Salt Lake Metro Police bureau, two men attacked another man near the corner of 500 West 200 South. When he approached, both suspects took off, prompting him to follow after one of them.

“Oh yeah, I went after him,” Ross said. “I mean, he didn't put up much of a chase, but I used necessary force to take him to the ground. On his person he had a backpack.”

In that backpack, Ross found approximately 390 balloons of heroin, 158 balloons of crack cocaine and $3,700 in cash.

“Yeah, it was a pretty substantial take off the street,” Ross said.

For Hughes, it was good insight into the issues within the neighborhood.

“The criminal element that is there is one that, frankly, I didn’t appreciate as much as I do now,” he said.

The 30-member commission has been divided on how best to address the needs of the city’s homeless population. Service providers have said the city cannot simply move the shelter, without taking into account the many other resources located in the area.

Health services and a food bank are among the many facilities the homeless community use in the neighborhood, along with the shelter. However, for businesses and residents within the Rio Grande district, the shelter and crime rate has proven to be problematic.

Following Tuesday’s visit, Hughes expressed concern about leaving the shelter in place.

“I think we ought to be looking at how to create a safe haven in a safer area for people to get on the right track,” Hughes explained. “There has to be a safer haven, a safer place for people to go, and one that will actually be more successful in bringing people into a different trajectory.”

The commission is expected to reach a decision by January 1, 2016.