Three homeless camps in Salt Lake City were cleared out on Wednesday. Two had only a handful of residents combined, and a third camp on Montague Ave. was bigger.
Michelle Hoon with the Salt Lake City Homeless Engagement and Response team said the goal of the clean-ups is to deal with the environmental and health issues at the camps, and to offer unsheltered residents an indoor space.
“Whether that’s a homeless resource center, into detox or some sort of option for people to come off the streets and into a warm bed,” Hoon said.
She said success comes when a person accepts the offer to enter a homeless resource center.
Hoon and workers from the Salt Lake County Health Department showed up at the camps on Main Street and Montague Ave. starting at noon, to give homeless residents there a final warning to collect their essential belongings before bulldozers scooped up everything else.
At one camp near 1300 South and Main, all the items belonged to one man who identified himself as Eric.
Eric said he’d been warned about the cleanup weeks earlier, but he waited until the last minute and hurriedly tried to separate items he’d keep from those he would part with.
The county health department crew that showed up to shovel and bulldoze what was considered trash worked around Eric as he moved items aside.
It wasn’t clear whether he’d accept an offer to store his items at a free Salt Lake City storage site and go to a homeless resource center or temporary shelter.
According to Salt Lake City government, there are between 1,774 and1880 beds available in either homeless resource centers or temporary and overflow shelters. That’s about 100 more beds than last year.
“I’ve been in the health department for 30 years. This is the most difficult thing we do,” said Dale Keller, bureau manager with Salt Lake County Environmental Health.
Keller said he and his crew try to be respectful of the people who live in the homeless camps and give them time to put aside belongings they want to keep.
I want the best for these individuals and attempt every way I can to treat them with respect,” he said.
But he also said county rules have to be followed and human fecal matter, needles and other garbage must be cleaned out as they are a threat to public health and the river water near some homeless camps.
He acknowledged the effort to end homelessness seems futile some days as homeless camps go away in one area only to pop up in another.
“Sometimes success means moving one problem to another area. That’s a stunningly low bar for success,” he said.