SALT LAKE CITY — After months of complaints about rising crime in the Ballpark neighborhood, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown heard directly from residents in a meeting Thursday night.
Close to 100 people joined in on the Ballpark Community Council Meeting, including neighbors and business owners.
A few hours before the meeting, John Allison walked his dog Lana around the block near his home.
The 7-year old Doberman mix has gotten more outside time since the start of COVID.
"Now that I'm home full-time, she gets a lot of walks now," Allison said with a chuckle. "She's enjoying it."
But also since the start of COVID, Allison described how he needs to watch out on their walks, to make sure Lana doesn't eat or step on anything.
"The most common things I'm seeing are human waste, a lot of trash, a lot of food trash, and unfortunately a lot of drug paraphernalia," he explained. "I have to be very careful when I walk my dog, because there are needles on the ground."
Many Ballpark residents previously shared concerns with Fox 13, saying they are seeing drug use, human waste and garbage, people camping out, violence, and an increase in crime.
Business owners explained their worries as well, especially those around the Gail Miller Resource Center.
"This has always been kind of a dicey neighborhood anyway," said Pat Jennings, who lives around the corner from Allison.
She said she's lived in her home for 25 years, and indicated that she understands what some of those who have been camping in the area are facing.
"After working in mental health for as long as I did and working with people who they can't help themselves, they're mentally ill," Jennings said. "They need services. They need help."
She and Allison each shared their frustrations with what's happening.
For Jennings, she explained she sees human beings who need help-- and she feels there aren't enough resources.
"I don't want all that criminal element in my backyard," she said, adding, "but I also understand-- Where are they going to go? What are they going to do? Who is going to help them?"
Allison shared that one of his biggest issues is cleanliness, and wanting the city to help out.
"If that trash can get cleaned up before it has an opportunity to attract more people, or more trash-- that would go a long way in keeping things clean," he said.
Mayor Mendenhall and Chief Brown were all ears Thursday evening, as they joined the community council meeting over Zoom to answer questions, listen to concerns and explain what the city is doing to move forward.
Ballpark residents, business owners and other employees shared their concerns candidly.
"It's just flagrant. People just walk onto people's front porches, walk in people's houses," said resident Chris Derbidge.
Joshua Bell, the principal at Horizonte School across the street from Smith's Ballpark, explained that they've gotten complaints from parents about activity in the parking lot the school uses.
The parking lot more recently became the home for two portable toilets, free and available to anyone during the COVID-19 shutdowns. However, it has become an area where people congregate.
"I've had a few parents, actually, who came to the building expressing concerns specifically about not feeling comfortable sending their kids to school, just because of some of what they saw in the parking lot," Bell said. "So that parking lot, the Bees parking lot, is a significant concern to us."
Shelley Bodily, who explained to Fox 13 a few weeks ago what she's seeing around her home, wanted to know if the city was planning to build anymore homeless resource centers to help.
"Any other cities that are planning on building any resource centers, to sort of alleviate the problems that we are having with homeless in our area, that individuals can go and seek help?" she asked.
Mayor Mendenhall and Chief Brown answered and provided information. At one point, they talked about being able to remove the portable toilets from the parking lot in front of Horizonte School.
Mendenhall said with Salt Lake City going to the "yellow" phase for COVID-19, it allows public restrooms to open back up.
She also talked about how she announced a plan a couple days ago that will help those experiencing homelessness this winter, especially as COVID-19 continues to be a challenge.
Mayor Mendenhall said the homeless resource centers are 97 to 100 percent full each night.
"Homeless resource centers are full, public spaces are closed, and so we are seeing more people on the streets," she said, explaining the current climate. "This community commitment program is two phases. The first phase, which we would love to have started this week-- and I anticipate it starting next week-- is an enhanced and expanded neighborhood cleanup program."
She mentioned that they are subsidizing any homeowner costs for cleanup of waste or trash, during the 12-week program.
The second phase, she said, includes expanded outreach to those experiencing homelessness, through a mobile version of Project Homeless Connect.
Chief Brown talked about how trying to arrest their way out of the situation is not effective, according to what statistics show. He said as they go forward, this is going to be a program of outreach.
He mentioned how they are increasing police presence in the Ballpark neighborhood, and interacting with people in the area.
"We are also assigning out overtime shifts so that we can increase our footprint in your community, and through your neighborhoods, with police officers," Chief Brown said. "And we'll do that through some overtime efforts."
Residents listened to the plans, and asked follow up questions.
Other city staff jumped in to provide additional explanations.
Salt Lake City Council Member Darin Mano, who represents the district around the Ballpark neighborhood, also joined the Zoom meeting, as did Representative Angela Romero (D-Utah).
Jennings told Fox 13 before the meeting that she would like to see more of a police presence, but she also wants to see more compassion toward those experiencing homelessness.
"They deserve to be treated like human beings," she said. "The mentally ill, and the substance abuse people deserve to have services and help."
Allison agreed with the help and services.
"People who are experiencing homelessness need to get the help," he said. "Whatever resources the city can provide, that would be great."
He also wants to see a task force formed, that would focus on cleaning up trash and waste throughout the area.
That way, when he takes Lana for a walk-- he isn't having to watch out.