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Murray Journal

Murray town hall addresses homeless situation

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Utah Department of Public Safety Major Jess Anderson describes the impact Operation Rio Grande had on the homeless. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

More than 200 Murray residents attended a town hall meeting on October 25 at Viewmont Elementary School to discuss homelessness and the impacts Murray may have experienced since Operation Rio Grande began. Operation Rio Grande is a joint state, Salt Lake County, and Salt Lake City law enforcement campaign rolled out in August to address the growing crime and drug problem among the homeless population around the Rio Grande neighborhood in downtown Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Amy Winder Newton arranged the community meeting to address constituent fears that Operation Rio Grande dispersed the homeless population along the Jordan River Parkway, TRAX lines and the freeways. Also participating in the meeting were Major Jess Anderson from the Utah Department of Public Safety,  Representative Bruce Cutler, Salt Lake County Sherriff Rosie Rivera and Murray’s Interim Mayor Blair Camp, along with Police Chief Craig Burnett and members of the Murray City Council.

Addressing whether there has been an increase in crime due to possible encroachment of criminal elements into Murray, Burnett stated that calls for service are proportional to last year’s numbers. 

“Where we are seeing more crime is in the north part of Murray, and that is primarily due to the high-density housing,” Burnett said. “Over last year, we have seen a rise in some property crimes in the west side of Murray, those being residential burglaries and cars getting broken into. Not what you would expect, not what you would think. To the tune of four or five more one month than there was another month. August we actually saw less this year than last year.”

Burnett stated that in-home burglaries where the criminals were apprehended, they found that the suspects were not homeless, but were people who lived in the neighborhood.

Anderson spoke about Operation Rio Grande and clarified that its purpose was not to eradicate the homeless, but to eradicate crime. Drug dealers were the primary target, and it was not meant to harass the homeless population. 

“We are just shy of 2,000 arrests,” said Anderson.

Illegal camping along the Jordan River has been targeted by the Department of Public Safety. Large homeless camps were taken down in South Salt Lake and several tons of waste were hauled out. Burnett indicated that Murray Parks and Recreation Department personnel daily ride the Parkway and report any encampments and trim away vegetation that would act as a shelter.

As Interstate 15 and I-215 intersect within Murray, the adjoining land along the freeway, particularly wooded areas, attracts homeless camps. Interstate 215 between 700 West and State Street has seen some activity, and attendees were told to notify police of any camps, especially because of the hazards they pose.

Cutler discussed new legislation that restricts panhandlers and penalizes those who do offer money at intersections and roadways as a public safety hazard. 

“An individual in an automobile cannot exchange money while sitting at a roadway with someone who is a pedestrian. If you exchange money with someone who is a pedestrian, for whatever purpose, whether it is to buy drugs or it’s just a panhandler, that is now illegal,” Cutler said. Both motorists and panhandlers can be cited. 

Attendees were told that if they encounter a homeless person or panhandler and wish to help them, that they can refer or help them call 2-1-1. The United Way has set up 2-1-1 to work with thousands of human service partners to provide the most accurate, concise referrals for individuals and families looking to get connected to critical resources. By calling this number, an individual can access homeless shelters, drop-in centers, runaway and domestic violence shelters, and get assistance to pay rent, mortgage or other housing expenses.

County Councilwoman Winder expressed her thoughts that a lot Murray residents do want to help. 

“Murray is a very passionate community,” she said, “and I applaud you for wanting to help your community.”