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Growing homeless camp causes concerns in Rio Grande area

Posted at 2:37 AM, Nov 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-25 04:38:01-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City business owner says she is frustrated by a growing homeless encampment outside her downtown business, causing concerns over sanitation and safety.

Curate owner Allison Parkinson described being promised the area would be cleaned up after Operation Rio Grande, but she's instead watching the number of tents expand each week.

Inside the Curate showroom on Rio Grande Street, bright color swatches and high-end furniture fill the large space lit up by massive windows.

A look through the windows shows a different kind of home just outside, with the bathroom at Curate's front door.

"People come up towards that wall-- the building-- and that's where they use the restroom," Parkinson said. "We have flies, we have the smell."

Parkinson talked about how she once looked out the window while helping a client to see a naked woman standing outside, hanging laundry over the metal fence.

The encampment next door has been building over the past six months, she indicated, bringing with it more than just sanitation concerns.

"People come by there, and they pound on the doors, and they make threats," Parkinson said, of her business doors and windows. She explained that people living in the encampments will walk inside her business. Others will try to open locked doors, and will yell at employees.

Not only does Parkinson and her employees not feel safe by the situation, she described how it scares her clients as well to the point that some don't like visiting the showroom.

She's worried that clients will stop going to her business altogether.

"That's what I'm afraid of," she said. "That's the fear."

While they call police during unsafe situations and in certain instances-- like the time Parkinson described someone burning an open flame underneath a tree-- she said officers can't make anyone leave and instead will move people away from the building and toward the sidewalk.

Calls to Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County Health Department have not left her satisfied, either.

The Salt Lake County Health Department told Fox 13 Tuesday that they've received complains of encampments in the Rio Grande area, and that they are planning an abatement in that area in the coming weeks.

Parkinson indicated that the health department has gone out there before to clean up garbage, but the encampment residents only leave temporarily.

"After an hour and a half, they're all back," she said. "So, it doesn't solve the problem."

It's the same area targeted during Operation Rio Grande, a multi-agency effort that kicked off in 2017 and aimed to crack down on drugs and crime, as well as help those experiencing homelessness connect to resources.

Parkinson explained that she purchased her business about a year and a half ago, during the operation.

"Which is when I decided it was okay to go ahead and purchase this, because it was cleaned up and we were pretty much told that this is the way it's going to be, now that it was cleaned up, and this was not going to be an issue here," Parkinson said.

But then several months ago, she indicated the camp popped up again and Parkinson's frustration grew with it.

"I have a lot of compassion, and I don't have bad feelings toward people. But this is not the solution," she said.

Salt Lake City Police responded in an email to Fox 13 Tuesday, saying, "Being homeless itself is not a crime. We continue to work with the Salt Lake County Health Department, the agencies within Salt Lake City, and our department social workers, to provide outreach, assistance and services to those who are experiencing homelessness."

For Parkinson, that hasn't translated to feeling safer outside her business. She said the sanitation issue is unnerving, and that this encampment isn't serving the people who live there, either.

"I feel like there's got to be an answer in terms of, there's got to be some public space," she said. "That if they're going to be a campground, then [the city] should provide facilities for them."