Volunteers of America respond as homeless population shifts to other areas in SLC

Posted at 5:29 PM, Jul 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-24 19:29:38-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Complaints from businesses and a growing number of events have kicked the homeless campers out of Pioneer Park, but now those experiencing homelessness are flocking to other areas of the city.

Over the past month, more and more homeless people have been crowding a strip of grass along 500 West.

The Volunteers of America noticed this and have been out in the area working to find out why so many people are going there and not seeking out services.

"The only reason I came out here is cause I got nowhere to go," said Michael Stidle, who has been homeless for months.

Stidle has been spending his days on a strip of grass behind the Rio Grande in Salt Lake City. He said each week more and more people set up camp in the area.

"You go down here and look on the sidewalk, every sidewalk, it's crowded because there are people over there sleeping--ya just can't go nowhere," Stidle said.

That's why the VOA coordinated an outreach program this week, to find out why this area is attracting the homeless and what they can do to help.

"It was just noticeable, we thought: 'Boy, this is a difference from what we've typically seen' and we wanted to get a handle of what was going on," said Rob Wesemann, who is a Division Director of Homeless Services for VOA.

After interviewing dozens of people camping, they found the majority of the homeless don't know what services are available.

"We would like to get them somewhere safe, so we can engage and figure out what the solution is rather than just get stuck out here," Wesemann said.

But some of the homeless said they stay away from the shelters because they don't feel safe there and can't get the real help they need.

"You look at their side and you wonder: 'Well, what can they do?' I don't know. Someone needs to come up with some answers, because I think it's going to get worse before it gets better,'" said Todd Dennis, who has been homeless on and off for two years.

In the meantime, the VOA said they will work to get more resources and help the people individually.

Wesemann said: "We want to follow-up, we followed up [Thursday], we continue to follow-up--getting people accessing services, talking to people about, 'What are your resources that you have available in the community?' And really working with them to kind of get things moving and get them safe."

For more information about the Volunteers of America in Utah, the resources they provide and the ways you can help: visit their website.