Salt Lake City’s Unofficial Homeless Mayor to Mayor Mendenhall, “You Lied to Me!”
Yet another Salt Lake City homeless camp is “abated” and the unsheltered homeless try to scatter to find shelter in 100-degree heat.
The media were not allowed to take photos or videos of what was transpiring just after the health department began its efforts.
“I’ve been moved out probably twenty-five times,” said camp leader Stacey Johnson who was distraught on Thursday over the prospect of being required to move her very small trailer, her dog, and her few belongings yet again. Johnson was the organizer of Fort Pioneer, which was a very successful homeless encampment under the freeway, with what she says were 300 individuals who got along well, and 50 campers who went to work every day.
When I asked Stacey what she would say to Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall regarding her situation she said, “You lied to me so many times! You know there is no way we can get any housing, you know because you keep stopping it”
When I asked how Mayor Mendenhall lied, she said that she was told by Mayor Mendenhall when she visited Fort Pioneer, that the camp would not be abated. One week later, Stacey said the city and health department showed up with front-end loaders to bulldoze the people out.
Mayor Mendenhall’s office responded by saying that they never provided Johnson any assurance that Fort Pioneer would not be abated. They also said that the camp kept expanding to the point it became far larger than its original size, and the city must obey the state ordinance which does not allow for public camping.
Johnson works directly with volunteer agencies such as VOA and others to assist the homeless people living in the camps in getting the basic provisions that they require.
Garbage was piling up at the camp located at 700 West and 230 South, butted up against Union Pacific property and city property. Despite arrangements being made to arrange for a dumpster and a porta-potty into the location, it was too late and the Salt Lake County Health Department along with the Salt Lake City Police Department had already determined to abate the sight.
Robin Pendergrast, who is a New York Times and Getty Image photographer, captured an image that appeared in the New York Times with that abatement. The sign read, “We are Human.” Pendergrass said that “That is emblematic of the treatment that these people are facing.” They are not being treated like humans. And it’s absolutely shameful to witness this treatment among such an affluent population. Pendergrass describes what he has witnessed on the Utah Stories Show. He said recently he witnessed an elderly gentleman named Joe pass away from heat exposure. Indeed the third-world conditions in one of the fastest-growing, most successful cities in the U.S. was difficult to fathom.
This was my first time witnessing an “abatement” in progress. There were around a dozen Salt Lake City police officers present, along three front-end loaders, four dump trucks, and another dozen County Health Official workers. The officers were wearing numbers instead of name tags on their shirt pockets. Officer O25, moved us off of the property when he declared, “We need everyone who isn’t cleaning up to get out of the way. I know you are trying to be a hero, so you can get your Facebook likes, but you will need to move.”
The officer’s snarky remarks, along with this aggressive attitude to move us out of the way preventing us from getting any more revealing shots, demonstrate either his orders or the general sentiment towards media attention of these abatements: nobody wants to be recorded kicking people out of a place who literally have nowhere else to go.
Officer O25 and the health department official who refused to be recorded or photographed, said that all of the services of the city have been reaching out to these people to try to help them. “They have been offered services again and again. But how do you give something to someone who doesn’t want it?” He claimed there was space in the Salt Lake City Homeless Shelters and that there were caseworkers on hand to help addicts or help people find work.
These claims run contrary to our interviews with homeless individuals. “I would lay down on the ground and swear with my life, nobody has come here offering to be my case worker, or offering to help me get into a shelter.” said a woman who goes by Sharon.
Mayor Mendenhall’s homeless PR Director, Andrew Johnson said that they have been in talks with state officials about possibly organizing a city-sanctioned camp, but he says that securing funding for the site is problematic because currently there isn’t any additional money to pay for it. Johnson also said that allowing the homeless to set rules and guidelines for their own camp, has not been a proven workable model. They would need to hire professional staff, and they would need to both secure the land and secure funding to do this, and as of now, the state does not want to contribute funding for this.
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