Joining the Pioneer Park Coalition as a board member, John Gurr brings real estate experience and an altruistic attitude to the group.
By Michelle Miller | December 18, 2018
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is reporting an uptick in homelessness three years in a row.
Does this mean there are more people experiencing homelessness? It’s hard to say, given the current metrics used to count “unsheltered” homelessness.
Unsheltered individuals are those which are sleeping in their cars or on the streets—not in a shelter. It does not take into account individuals and families staying in motels, couch surfing, or in other unstably housed situations. This means a potential gap of thousands of individuals not being accounted for.
The Point in Time count is currently the only metric used to gain a better understanding of how many people are experiencing homelessness in the United States.
The system is far from perfect.
Over the course of three nights every January, service providers and volunteers hit the streets to do a head count of unsheltered individuals. It’s not hard to imagine the estimated 194,000 unsheltered individuals in 2017 is on the low-end. There is a big push to get more affordable housing online. Is it needed? Absolutely. Is it the cure to homelessness? Absolutely not. Affordable housing, while necessary, is only one piece of the puzzle.
Families and individuals who have been experiencing homeless for extended periods need help to become more self-sufficient by teaching job skills, social skills, and life skills so they can end the cycle of poverty and homelessness once and for all. Basic skills housed individuals take for granted such as cooking, cleaning, and budgeting.
You can give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. The time has come to grab our poles and head toward the water.
Recently, David Garbett, our Executive Director, announced that he will be pursuing other opportunities. We appreciate David’s work with the Pioneer Park Coalition. His vision and desire to build bridges has made invaluable contributions in moving our work forward. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.
By Michelle Miller
Pioneer Park Coalition is dedicated to keeping an eye on crime data for Salt Lake City in the year following Operation Rio Grande. We wrote two previous blogs about crime at Operation Rio Grande’s beginning. I am now revisiting crime stats after the one-year mark. The news remains similar: crime is low city-wide post-Operation Rio Grande, rates continue to be much lower in the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande area, but there are some neighborhoods that need attention (Central City, Poplar Grove, and Glendale).
In our previous blogs we highlighted Salt Lake City’s crime rates from 2013 through 2017 in select neighborhoods. We focused on serious crimes (aggravated assault, burglary, rape/sexual assault, homicide, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and robbery) as well as non-serious crimes (curfew/loitering, disorderly conduct, drug abuse, stolen property, vandalism, and drunkenness). We focused solely on Salt Lake City because Salt Lake City Police Department has the most transparent and accessible crime data for public access. If we could get the other cities data we would look at it too. The following graphic is a look at crime rates up to December 2017:
Now, let’s take a look to see what’s been happening between October 2013 and September 2018:
We kept the majority of neighborhoods the same and included the Poplar Grove and Glendale neighborhoods. We chose these neighborhoods based on where we have heard Operation Rio Grande has dispersed crime. The statistics show a gemerally positive story, especially in the downtown area. As you can see there was a spike in August 2018 which can probably be attributed to hotter weather and longer days. Weather patterns create a natural ebb and flow to crime rates as can be observed in the data.
But this story is not entirely positive at the neighborhood level. Some specific areas have failed to see drops in crime or may have even experienced increases. To better illuminate what’s happening in surrounding areas, here is the same graph excluding downtown:
If you feel your neighborhood has been excluded, we apologize. We are trying to focus on the neighborhoods facing the most problems. To see what’s happening in your neighborhood, we encourage you to go to the Salt Lake City Police Department website and play around with it. As this graph shows, there are some neighborhoods that have not moved in the right direction. In particular, Salt Lake City should be giving more attention to the Central City, Poplar Grove, and Glendale neighborhoods.
An overview of all neighborhoods for all crimes paints a continued positive picture. Since the start of Operation Rio Grande, crime has decreased to near historic lows in the last five years across Salt Lake City:
Something worth mentioning—this data is inclusive of everyone committing crimes in Salt Lake City and is not exclusive to the homeless population. Being homeless is not a crime. The mere sight of people experiencing homelessness does not necessarily mean a crime has been or will be committed. This crime data does not mean that there was not some dispersion of people experiencing homelessness into surrounding neighborhoods since Operation Rio Grande. If that is true, not all people experiencing homelessness are committing crimes and not all people who commit crimes are homeless.
In summary, Operation Rio Grande continues to be a huge net positive on crime rates in the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande neighborhood and Salt Lake City, as a whole. Central City, Poplar Grove, and Glendale, however, need more attention.
The Pioneer Park Coalition and Salt Lake City contributed $950,000 towards creating a multi-use lawn and installing event and pedestrian lighting. As the Great Lawn will open in Spring 2019, the Coalition is currently collaborating with the Downtown Community Council, Downtown Alliance, City employees, and other stakeholders on redesigning the rest of the park and a public-private partnership proposal.
One of the most frequently asked questions we get from members of the community is “How can I help the homeless? I know we aren’t supposed to give money to panhandlers, so what are some alternatives?” Today we are going to spotlight a few organizations we feel do a great job reaching and helping those in the most need who find themselves experiencing homelessness.
The Other Side Academy
One amazing organization helping those who have hit rock bottom is The Other Side Academy. Their website states,
“The Other Side Academy is a school where our students learn vocational, pro-social, and life skills so they can succeed on “the other side”. It is a school where our students can learn marketing skills, business skills, and gain experience in various trades.
It is a school where our students learn how to make and keep promises and how to live life with integrity, accountability, and with love. Our students will have the opportunity to working in our various vocational training schools, such as The Other Side Movers and Promise Land Food.
Our school is for men and women who have hit rock bottom, usually from a lifetime of addiction and criminal behavior, who now want to learn a better way to live. The Other Side Academy is available for these men and women pre- and post- sentencing and those within the jails and prisons within the state of Utah as well as those convicts, substance abusers, homeless and others who walk in off the street.”
So how can you help? The Other Side Academy offers many ways to help, from monetary and in-kind donations to volunteer opportunities. Another great way? Hire them! The Other Side Movers and the new Promised Land Food Truck are operated by Academy students and give them real world business experience as well as self-sufficiency. See all current opportunities here.
Another great program here in Utah that helps many families who are trying to get back on their feet after experiencing homelessness is Families First. The program description from their website reads:
“Families First is Utah’s premier intensive in-home intervention designed to teach parents skills to change the unwanted behaviors of their children, and to improve family functioning. Many of the referral’s we receive are from healthy families who are simply looking for better more effective ways to discipline their children and/or control behaviors.
The children in the families we serve often have a variety of behavioral and/or emotional problems. Some have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, some are struggling with school behaviors, some are simply ungovernable, and others are reacting poorly to dysfunctional environments.
Many families live at or below poverty level and are struggling to find jobs, housing, clothing, and food for their children, while others are successful in these endeavors. All of these families have the common desire to change behaviors, learn new ways of interacting, and to create more peace and harmony in their homes.”
There are many ways to help at Families First, and the parent organization Utah Youth Village. To see all opportunities, check out their site here.
As we well know, homelessness often goes hand in hand with addiction. Odyssey House provides drug treatment programs for those from all walks of life. Their treatment programs are consistently ranked as some of the highest in the nation and they are constantly working at expanding to be able to treat more individuals. They are all about people, not profit, and donations are greatly appreciated. To read more about the programs, donate, or see other ways to help, visit the site here.
First Step House
Another great organization providing assistance to those experiencing homelessness, drug addiction, and other hardships is the First Step House. Their mission statement on their website reads,
“First Step House is a leading organization in the field of addiction recovery. We help people who are struggling with substance use and behavioral health disorders. We offer a range of services including residential treatment, outpatient treatment, long-term recovery management, transitional housing, case management, and evidence-based therapies. Our goal is to create an environment that fosters, supports, and enables long-term recovery.”
Want to help? First Step House provides many opportunities including monetary and in-kind donations and assistance with community fundraisers and events. To find out more check out ways to help here.
These are just a few of the many organizations that provide services to the homeless population of Salt Lake City. If you find yourself wondering how you can help, we hope you will consider donating or volunteering with one of these organizations. Knowing your money and time will be helping the individual as well as the community as a whole and seeing the change in action can be such a rewarding experience.
Six months into Operation Rio Grande, aggregate crime in Salt Lake City decreased 25%, the lowest point for the city since 2013. Every SLC neighborhood examined in our analysis saw its aggregate crime rates diminish or continue falling after Operation Rio Grande, with one exception. In Liberty-Wells, crime rates roughly plateaued or had a slight upward trend—though still below the 2016 peak.
We have examples to follow as we re-envision Pioneer Park as a true public gathering place where everyone feels welcome.
On any given day, visitors and residents of New York City can visit the Bryant Park website and be overwhelmed with the sheer amount and variety of activities going on in the park that day (and night).
A New Vision for Pioneer Park: family-friendly and inviting to all 24/7
As I sit down to write this blog post, for example, I could hit up Joe Coffee Company for my morning brew or select from a number of other food kiosks. I could take my kids down at 11 a.m. for Bryant Park Games where we can play board games as a family. After our epic Monopoly match we can head over to the ice skating rink for opening day at noon, grabbing a bite to eat at Breads Bakery on the way. After skating, we can have a battle for the ages at the Ping Pong tournament or visit the Art Cart to utilize the free drawing and craft supplies and take advantage of free art instruction.
I could go on. But this just gives you a taste of a vision. The vision we have for our own Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City.
Bryant Park in New York City isn’t the first to embrace the concept of a publicly owned yet privately run park. And they certainly won’t be the last. But what they do have is a history. Looking at Bryant Park 20 years ago, you would have found a haven for drug dealers and a public bathroom for the homeless. The fountains long dried up and covered in graffiti. If you have visited SLC’s Pioneer Park in the last decade, this may sound familiar.
So what changed? How did Bryant Park go from being a seedy NYC armpit to New York City’s beloved Town Square? It started with a vision. A public-private partnership between elected officials, NYC Parks and Recreation, and local businesses. It started with a commitment; and a group of people saying “This is OUR neighborhood. Let’s take it back.”
This is how we know it can be done. Other examples include Millennium Park in Chicago and Civic Center Park in our neighboring Denver. These cities faced many of the same challenges we now face and they figured it out. They united as a city and rose above it, creating beautiful, thriving parks that are cultural activity centers.
Pioneer Park is uniquely located and positioned to be just as successful as these examples. And we are well on our way. A small taste of the large scale dream we have in mind include the Downtown Farmer’s Market and Twilight Concert Series, both which have found a home in the park and are run by private entities.
Are you ready to join us? Maybe someday soon you can wake up on a Saturday morning and visit the Pioneer Park website to plan out the day with YOUR family.
Contact us to get involved. We would love to have you be a part of the vision!
Operation Rio Grande Phase One has been extremely successful in arresting dangerous criminals and disrupting the drug trafficking and usage in the area. In the first two months, 37 treatment beds became available and were all filled with individuals that were arrested as a result of Operation Rio Grande. Those experiencing homelessness have expressed appreciation for how they now feel safe and are accessing services and programs to change their lives.
The Pioneer Park Coalition spent over a year advocating and collaborating with public officials towards an unprecedented operation with commitment and integration on the city, state, county, and private level, with bipartisanship and cooperation. On Monday, August 14th, Phase One of this 2+ year operation went into effect.
The Salt Lake City Council earmarked $200,000 to purchase transportable toilets to relieve the issue of human waste in the park and on the property of local businesses. The council also approved another $380,000 to hire additional social workers and police officers and pay police overtime to address an unprecedented level of violence and crime in the Pioneer Park area.
After one year of close involvement in Salt Lake County Collective Impact on Homelessness and the Mayor’s Commission on Homeless Site Evaluation, the Pioneer Park Coalition joined a group of stakeholders in proposing Salt Lake County’s HOMES Initiative, asking for $27 million from the state legislature as part of a coordinated request representing all interests to help achieve a common goal to minimize homelessness in Utah.
The Pioneer Park Coalition hosted the first televised debate for the 2015 Salt Lake City mayoral race at KSL 5 TV Studios. This questions the coalition provided and all five candidates responses raised light on the complexities of addressing homelessness such as improving mental health services, protecting women and children, and dispersing facilities to reduce the burden of any one neighborhood.
During the 2015 legislative season, The Pioneer Park Coalition successfully requested $1 million of the Governor’s budget for permanent supportive housing efforts, which was allocated to the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund. As PPC continued its advocacy efforts to address homelessness, Salt Lake County formed a Collective Impact on Homelessness Steering Committee and invited the Pioneer Park Coalition to participate, giving them four chairs on the committee.
The Pioneer Park Coalition convened a design charrette focused on physical improvements to the Park and neighborhood, to support and address in part many complex community issues of the district. This effort was done close coordination with Salt Lake City, to update and help bring to fruition concepts outlined in Salt Lake City’s 2006 Pioneer Park Master Plan.
The Pioneer Park Coalition worked with the Salt Lake Police department to fundraise and acquire new security technology for Pioneer Park. Earlier in the month, the Salt Lake City Mayor’s office released The Homeless Services 6 Point Strategy to End Homelessness, which included the Pioneer Park Coalition as a primary community partner in the plan and listed renewal of Pioneer Park as the 6th strategy.