If you haven’t noticed, the city is going through a humanitarian crisis.
The Rio Grande-Pioneer Park neighborhood, which should be a jewel of urban living, is beset by severe public-safety and -health problems caused by an exploding homeless population and the jackals who prey upon them.
It’s important to note who the real victims are. It’s not the developers who are drooling over the potential of park-side real estate and it’s certainly not the mayor or the city council who have mired construction of effective new shelters in petty politics.
The victims are the homeless, the addicts, the mentally ill and, by extension, the neighborhood business owners, workers and residents of west downtown SLC who find themselves dealing with the mess. They desperately need relief and they need it soon.
The bad news: Mayor Jackie and the city council with its cast of future mayor candidates have allowed sordid politics to delay placement of the needed shelters and possibly future state funding increases for homeless services.
But there is some good news.
The county, including SLCo Mayor Ben McAdams, gets it.
The city’s Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission, led by former Mayor Palmer DePaulis and philantrophist Gayle Miller, gets it.
And, most importantly, SLC’s new Police Chief Mike Brown gets it.
Brown told the council at a work session this week that social workers are the answer to the homeless problem. “We can’t arrest our way out of this,” he said. He has shifted cops into the Rio Grande area, but he has teamed them with social workers who are working directly with the police to get addiction, housing and job services to the homeless.
In the long term, the chief explained, things like bus passes to jobs, addiction treatment and affordable housing is more important than busting street-level drug dealers.
The only wrong note in the chief’s presentation to the city council was that David Litvack, Jackie’s Deputy Chief Of Staff, insisted on sitting next to the chief when Brown answered the council’s questions. It was reminiscent of a mob wise guys hip-to-hip with their lawyers as they testify before a congressional organized-crime commission. I half expected Litvack to whisper to Brown to take the Fifth.
Why is Jackie so freaked out about the chief of police answering questions?