SALT LAKE CITY — Business owners in downtown Salt Lake City say they have a growing problem on their hands: Customers and employees don't feel safe coming into their shops, thanks to what they call an aggressive homeless population growing outside.
On Friday, business owners organized what was the second regular weekly meeting in an attempt to unify and bring attention to the issue, inviting representatives from police and the city.
"What I’m hearing from a lot of customers is they’re getting aggressive," Brett Delbridge, co-owner of Vape on Main, told FOX 13 News. "It's almost where people are scared to come now."
He said they're trying to find solutions and ways to stay in business, describing some of the incidents he's witnessed.
"I’ve seen numerous fights. I’ve seen people just getting assaulted," he said. "And it’s just crazy — and it's just absolutely crazy how it’s gotten to be out of control."
Delbridge said he's appreciated seeing more officers in the area lately, but they need more help.
"We feel like as small business owners, we’re getting, I don’t want to say neglected, but the city needs to do more to make downtown the way it used to be," he said.
Teresa Bowman has run Mid City Salon on Broadway just off Main the past 24 years, and she says it's never been like this before.
"It's gotten really bad. They're just constantly harassing us," she said.
Bowman says she and her employees regularly clean up feces, urine, drug paraphernalia and more outside of her store. She also said there have been incidents of assault, with chairs thrown at employees recently, damaging her awning and sidewalk.
She said she has always tried to help those who were down on their luck, having family members finding themselves out on the streets. She is part of a group of stylists who volunteer by providing haircuts and color to homeless shelters and has volunteered for years, but says lately help has been refused and she's not sure what to do.
"Just dealing with this all the time — how do you keep running a business?" she said.
Her daughter Alyssa Brown also works at the salon and said she understands many of the problems are heightened due to addiction and mental health issues.
"This isn't us versus the homeless. I want better for them, too. We are asking for better for our community," she said.
But she said the behaviors are more violent and there need to be protections in place for those who work and shop in the area.
"I have been down here all my life. My mom has owned a business down here. I’ve been friends with all the other business owners. And it is a different type of homeless problem at the moment," Brown said.
"Since meeting last week with business owners, we've increased police presence in the area, added more frequent and thorough cleanings, and have possible plans to add a substation in that area," said Anthony Johnston, the director of Salt Lake City's Homelessness Policy and Outreach. "Outreach teams are also trying to get services to the unsheltered homeless."