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SLC businesses fed up with crime near homeless resource center

Posted at 11:04 PM, Jul 31, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Businesses near one of the homeless resource centers in Salt Lake City say they are fed up with problems they are experiencing.

The issues, they explain, include violent attacks, drug use, outdoor bathroom usage and harassment.

On Friday afternoon, Michelle Goldberg walked around her dog kennel business, petting freshly-fed pups.

Dogs are her passion.

"Caring for dogs," she said, of what she loves about running Diggity Dog Resort. "Whether it's loving, feeding, dosing medicine."

Though her focus in recent months has been taking care of something else entirely different.

"Urination and defecation on the property, property damage," Goldberg listed off. "We have a lot of drug and prostitution activity happening up and down the street."

The entrance to her pet resort sits across Paramount Avenue from the entrance to the Gail Miller Homeless Resource Center.

Goldberg explained that after the resource center opened last fall, she hired three people who were residents at the center. She said she feels there are truly people who need the help the shelter offers.

But Goldberg began to notice a side effect of issues stemming from people congregating around the center, that she indicated has led to employees quitting and a loss of customers.

People hanging out around the center began to panhandle and harass her customers and employees.

"We've had many people just kind of walk in our front door, as we're directly across from there," she recounted. "They've been unclothed, they've been high, they have tried to get into the dog yards."

She described how they once discovered a person masturbating next to their fence. Another time, she said customers had to help her scoot someone out the door.

A street filled with safety concerns

Every business around Goldberg on Paramount Avenue has similar stories.

Kerry Fonnesbeck with Bagley Ice said a man broke into his business one time. Another time, he said, someone vandalized his car and stole his briefcase from the car. Fonnesbeck said batteries have been stolen from their vehicles.

"I was attacked when we asked an individual to move off our property," he explained.

Brady Stephens, owner of Crankshaft Grinders said vehicles on his property have also been broken into.

"Just last night, I had someone try to break the windows out," he said.

Robert Danielson with Alpha Munitions said he's been attacked more than once.

"He came after me with this," Danielson said, holding up a sizable wooden pole. Just a day ago, he said a man came after him with the pole and threatened to kill Danielson after he noticed Danielson was open carrying.

Danielson said he carries a gun on him for safety.

On two other separate occasions, he said he was attacked by someone with a knife.

"These are people with knives. I mean, they're every night — knives and shanks. I find them all around our building, all up and down the street... the drugs, the needles," he said. "It's absolutely insane."

Danielson has been documenting the issues, from taking pictures of the used needles and crack pipes he finds, to videos of people yelling at him to, "Get the f*** out of here!"

He talked about problems with an abandoned house that sits right on the other side of the entrance to the resource center, that he explained is often a popular spot for drug use, loitering and other illegal activities. He said the police were called because a woman was raped behind that house last year.

Abandoned, broken down vehicles dot the street, and garbage litters the ground, particularly around the house. People walk up and down the street, and back up again. A couple of them told FOX 13 Friday that some of the people who hang around the resource center have been kicked out.

A video from Danielson's surveillance system shows a driver ramming the open door of a car parked on the street — with a person standing right next to the door. The person narrowly escapes being hit, and their car door is demolished.

Danielson said he sees people who really do use the shelter for what it's intended for — People who are down on their luck, some of whom have jobs that they attend every day. He said he's seen those people victimized and robbed, too.

Working toward a solution

Danielson and Goldberg talked about how they've reached out to administration in Salt Lake City, as well as Salt Lake City Council members. They each expressed wanting immediate changes like an increase in lighting down the street, and an increase in police patrols.

They both said they were promised a police substation in the area when the resource center was built, but that never happened.

They don't feel satisfied with the response they've received since then.

"I do think that the county and the city have really failed the businesses on this street," Goldberg said. "With little to no mitigation, being really inflexible with suggestions that we're making."

Salt Lake City Council member Darin Mano explained that businesses and residents have reached out to him.

"We're not blind to that," he said of the issues. "I hear it. I know that it's happening, and I'm aware. I live it myself every day."

Mano lives in the area of the resource center, and described how he, too, experiences what some of the businesses are describing.

He called it "alarming," and said it's a difficult and complex issue that the city administration is doing what they can to work on. Mano explained that he's trying to work with the mayor and police department to see what can be done on the policing front — though he said policing isn't the only solution.

"The city as a whole, all the different departments, are looking at it from their own lens and trying to come up with solutions to the immediate things," he said.

They are trying to resolve issues that address the root cause of what's happening, he indicated. That includes focusing on long-term solutions like affordable housing and mental health treatment.

Mano mentioned one recently-implemented short-term solution to help with the bio-waste issue in the area. The city installed portable toilets staffed with an attendant, that people can use during the daytime.

"I just hope that everyone can be understanding that it's, there's not a really one 'silver bullet' that will solve it tomorrow," he said. "And if we had that we would use it, but we don't."

Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall's office sent FOX 13 a statement about the concerns around the homeless resource center:

The city has a team that is dedicated to liaison work with neighbors and businesses that directly surround our two homeless resource centers. This team works to problem solve around cleanliness and crime issues that may be affecting those neighborhoods. Law enforcement partners closely with this team, as do shelter operators.

Safety is paramount

In the last several months, each business on Paramount Avenue said they've had to invest money into their own safety and security measures.

Danielson said his small business spent $50,000 to $100,000 to purchase surveillance cameras, security systems, bars in all the windows, and an 8-foot fence to separate his property from the sidewalk, which includes a locked gate.

Staff have changed how they open their building in the morning, and how they shut down at night.

Stephens said they installed surveillance, security and extra lighting. He said he wanted to install a fence, but it was too much money for his small, family-owned business to spend.

Each business relayed that they hope to meet with the city, and talk about how to move forward.

Goldberg, who said business declined significantly when the shelter went up, really wants the increased police presence.

"I would love to see the city stick to their promise of having a police substation or 24-hour surveillance, but on the street," she said.

Danielson said he's hopeful. He said he never had a problem with the shelter being next door to him, and never had a problem with giving help to people who need help.

"I do believe that this can work," Danielson said. "There's a way for this to work."