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    Categories: Community & CultureEat & DrinkPolitics

In the trenches with the homeless

The downtown business community’s humanity in dealing with the homeless is being sorely tested as the political battle between city, county and state rages on.

Most retail and restaurant people have accepted that panhandling and camping on their sidewalks is a fact of life. City Creek security guards, for instance, chose recently not to roust a man sleeping on the 100 South pavement, just steps from the Cheesecake Factory entrance. We can only assume he was a few centimeters beyond the invisible line that separates squeaky clean City Creek from the real downtown.

But Alamexo restaurant owner Matt Lake, who, as anyone in the dining community knows, is a humane guy, has hit his limit. Recently, the area around Alamexo on State Street and Gallivan Avenue has become an impromtu restroom. Oddly enough, the smell of urine and sight of feces does not enhance a restaurant’s business.

Sunday, Alamexo, judged one of Utah’s top-25 fine restaurants, had an notable incident with a homeless man—breathtaking if only for his chutzpah. The hostess seated an unremarkable-looking customer who enjoyed a splendid meal of Alamexo’s signature guac (made tableside), followed by an entree. According to the manager:

“At the end of the meal he called me over to let me know that everything had been great and that he really enjoyed the food.”

In a world of snarky Yelp reviewers, that kind of feedback is wonderful for a restaurant, right? Sweet even. Then he dropped the bomb:

“He told me that he is kind of famous in a negative way, and that he is a very bad man.  He said that the police are looking for him and want to arrest him.  He also informed me that he was not going to pay his bill.  When I questioned him on this, he told me that he wasn’t going to pay, he wasn’t going to leave and I could call the police if I wanted to do so.”

Call the police she did, then waited 40 minutes nervous minutes for them to arrive.

“In speaking with them, it turns out that we are the second restaurant he was kicked out of [Sunday] for the same reason, and that he has four citations for doing the same thing. [The officers] asked me if I would like to have him be told that he was not welcome in the restaurant from now on, and I wholeheartedly agreed.”

Yes, in the restaurant world, someone who eats, then serially refuses to pay, is “a bad man.” But there’s a kicker to this story. The police told the manager:

“It appears he is trying to get arrested because he is sick of sleeping on the streets and would rather be in jail.”

This level of desperation has to be one yardstick for the city’s homeless mess that has become a political football between the county (two new shelters), the city (NIMBY uber alles!) and the Legislature (xnay on Medicare/Medicaid extensions).

On the other hand, Lake, and his employees have livings to earn, but are finding themselves, with other businesses and downtown residents, absorbing a disproportionate amount of the problem until something is done.

Last month, Lake asked for a meeting with Mayor Jackie about the increasing craziness, but she has yet to show up.

Perhaps, she, the city council and McAdams are trying to run the clock out into winter when the weather will take care of the problem for them. McAdams, better than most, knows that the county jail is not an effective or economical homeless shelter.

Glen Warchol :