A few Saturdays ago, I went to the Downtown Alliance’s Farmers’ Market in Pioneer Park. That wonderful activity, combined with the Utah Arts Festival and other summer events, make me feel like I live in a real, almost cosmopolitan, city.
About 1:30 p.m., I drove back by Pioneer Park. Within just a few minutes after the yuppies and their high-priced suppliers of delicacies had vacated the premises, the park had been almost totally reclaimed by the homeless. Scores of lost souls wandered aimlessly, either alone or in small groups. And, in what seemed to be the full view of the Salt Lake City Police Department, I saw what appeared to be transactions of herbs probably not as legal as those on sale a few hours earlier.
Every four years over the past few decades, candidates for mayor and the city council have talked about cleaning up the park and its surrounding environment. But nothing ever happens.
The latest hope is that the gentrifying effects of the restored buildings in the neighborhood and the construction of a large number of new residential units will, in the converse of Gresham’s law, drive out the bad influences. Unfortunately, if the past is any guide to the future, that won’t work either.
The reason that homeless people hang out at Pioneer Park is obvious to anyone honest enough to accept the answer'all of the service providers for the homeless are located within a few hundred yards of the park. There is simply no other place for the homeless to go. Feed a stray cat once and it will live with you forever. For a related reason, the homeless will continue to call the park home; it will be a very long time before the service providers will be located anywhere else.
Think about it. Many in Salt Lake City would protest loudly about moving the homeless anywhere else unless facilities and services at the new location were at least as comprehensive as those near the park. On the other hand, everybody who lives within artillery range of any proposed new home for the homeless would protest it more stridently than they would a new Wal-Mart. It’s not as if Sandy is fighting to have the homeless shelter along with the new soccer stadium. Any change in the location of the homeless is years away.
Of course, the police could keep the park clean by rousting the homeless and the small-time drug dealers on a regular basis. But if they took the time to do so, the rest of the city would be wide open to a crime wave and the county jail would be filled to overflowing.
Since I am not smart enough to solve the homeless problem at Pioneer Park, at least not in a way that would have any chance of being adopted by the powers that be, I hereby propose a contest. The readers of City Weekly are pretty smart, and I recently read that collective wisdom is better than individual thought. I therefore invite the readers of this column to come up with detailed suggestions about possible solutions.
But, please, send your ideas to Mayor Rocky Anderson and the City Council, not me. Fortunately, the only time I get near the park is for the market, and driving by on the way to Interstate 15.