Investigating Homelessness Death and Public Safety in Utah

How much has Salt Lake City spent on homeless “abatements”? Is there a better solution? Abatements are cruel and ineffective.


Housing costs have risen sky-high in Utah. Many are priced out of the market. Just what is the city doing to help those who have become recently homeless? They are “abating” them.

Eric Peterson from the Utah Investigative Journalism Project recently wrote an article for the Salt Lake Tribune concerning the exorbitant costs of homeless abatements in 2021. Peterson appeared on the Utah Stories show to talk about his findings. So how much has Salt Lake City spent on homeless “abatements”? The amount which does not include the cost of Salt Lake County Health Department Contractors is $500,000. If this figure did include contractors, it is well over $1 million. That amount is only calculated for 2021. With already over 50 homeless abatements conducted, 2022 is likely over $2 million. Was this a good usage of tax-payer funds? 

The Recent Murder of Joe Salas

Eric Peterson recently investigated the murder of Joe Salas, a married man who was homeless for only a short time.  Salas was walking along the Jordan River near North Temple when he was attacked and repeatedly stabbed to death. Peterson‘s reporting showed the Salas investigation was hurt by a lack of trust between the police and the homeless. Besides Salas, over the past eight months, several homeless camps have told both Eric and Utah Stories that many homeless people are either going missing or are homicide victims. Could this be true?

Homeless Advocate Wendy Garvin of Unsheltered Utah has told Eric that they reported to SLCPD that a man had been threatening women inside of a homeless camp. When Garvin presented this information along with the eye-witness testimony of other homeless individuals the Salt Lake City Police Department did not follow up with her or the homeless witnesses about the incidents or the suspect.

Rumors inside of the homeless community are that there is a “serial killer” on the loose and that SLCPD is not either not investigating these murders or wants to keep these deaths under wraps. 

Eric Peterson talks about how the SLCPD does not want to talk about investigations into the most recent murder, nor did they want to discuss investigating crimes against homeless individuals including a ranting man who was wielding an ax and threatening the kill people. The only information they would provide Peterson for his story is that there have been three reported murders since 2019. But they did not readily know how many bodies have been found on the river in recent years. They stated, “a full accounting would require a lengthy consultation of their records.”

We will follow up this story with the results of our GRAMA request for information from SLCPD on a number of homeless victims who have died on the streets. As well as the number of homeless victims who have died that are classified as “cold cases”. 

Under current Utah law, these may not need to be reported under the police database system. Last legislative session SB 160 directed the SLCPD to start entering cold case victims into the police database. Utah Department of Public Safety is spearheading an effort to receive funding to hire an administrator to do this.


Articles by Eric Peterson:




Subscribe to Utah Stories weekly newsletter and get our stories directly to your inbox

* indicates required



, , , ,

Join our newsletter.
Stay informed.

Related Articles