SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Business owners near Pioneer Park are fed up with the growing homeless population in their neighborhood. They say its affected business in the area, and not enough is being done to change it.
Business owners and stakeholders expressed their frustrations at the Pioneer Park Coalition meeting earlier this week. Pete Henderson, owner of the Rio Grande Café, was one of them.
“We all want to help the homeless, and I’m included in that group, very much so,” Henderson said. “But it has to be done smart, in a smart way, and it hasn’t been. It’s been a Band-Aid.”
Henderson said he and his employees have had three violent encounters with homeless individuals over the past week. He said increased crime, pan-handling, and public camping are driving away business.
“So far, even with some policies being made, and being changed, the end result is a worse condition,” Henderson said.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski has made homelessness in the Rio Grande area a major focus. Earlier this year, she formed a site selection commission to look at ways to reform the system and perhaps create additional shelter locations.
David Litvack, Biskupski's Chief of Staff, said they’re also trying to address the short-term problem as well.
“We know, in terms of what’s happening currently in the Rio Grande area, the types of services, and resources that we need to be putting in, and are putting into the neighborhood now, law enforcement services, human services,” Litvack said.
Litvack said when looking at the long-term solution, the prospects are promising, but it’s not going to happen right away. The homeless services site commission is holding their first public workshop on June 13. The goal is to engage with the public on ways to decrease the homeless population, and better connect them with services.
But stakeholders like Henderson said they’ve been hearing talk for years, and want to see some action. The Pioneer Park Coalition is urging the city to fund more Rio Grande police officers and enact tougher polices on pan-handling, loitering and camping.
“We need a hand,” Henderson said. “One neighborhood can’t carry this entire load. It has for many, many years.”
The homeless services site commission’s public workshop will be held on June 13 at 6 p.m. at the Sorenson Unity Center, located at 1383 South 900 West.