- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Advocates say the neighborhood around Salt Lake City’s main homeless shelter has gotten more dangerous as the facility is stretched thin and access to health care is scarce.

Homeless advocates and community outreach organizers say without drug addiction services, more beds and mental health support, the Rio Grande neighborhood is likely to get worse, The Deseret News reported (http://bit.ly/28PccfC ).

“For the first time in 20 years, it’s more unsafe than it’s ever been down there,” said community advocate Pamela Atkinson, who recently led a group of volunteers from her church to serve a meal at Catholic Community Services’ St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall. “I ended up keeping most of the people behind the glass in the kitchen and not having too many people out serving people who were sitting there.

Salt Lake Deputy Police Chief Josh Scharman said violent crime in the area is down, but more officers have been injured during arrests recently.

“I’m seeing it almost daily between needle sticks, violent resisting or flat-out people who are in crisis,” Scharman said.

However, Scharman said he believes many homeless people are comfortable reaching out to the officers that patrol the area in times of crisis.

“Some of our people are much more responsive to our officers than they are to outreach teams from some of our services providers, which I wouldn’t have expected. But we’ve built some terrific relationships and I’m very optimistic about how that’s going go,” he said.

The Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission is working to recommend new locations for shelters and emergency homeless services. Officials with the commission have said it could be two years before new shelters are constructed and that in the meantime the homeless situation could get worse.

Meanwhile, as the commission works to develop criteria for site selection, Matthew Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, said commissioners need to keep the current conditions in mind. Minkevitch said in just over 11 months The Road House has served 8,000 people. He said that’s about a 13 percent increase in services compared to last year.

“We’ve done that in order to meet demand. There’s not a particular incentive we have,” he said. “We don’t get a reimbursement per bed, so we’re incentivized to make sure our beds are filled. Demand requires that of us. We had over 1,000 people in our shelters (Tuesday) night.”

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Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com

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