SLC businesses near homeless shelters say they need financial support for ongoing property crime

Shatterproof glass, three secure doors and eight catalytic converters.

Those items alone totaled tens of thousands of dollars for Lux Catering and Events, which is about a block from the Gail Miller Resource Center. And those aren’t the only costs the ballpark company has incurred from ongoing property crime near the shelter and homeless encampments that often spring up in the area, including vandalism, burglaries and a stolen vehicle, said Lux ​​CEO Kelly Lake.

Lake and her team support the shelter, she said. She is not asking for it to be closed or relocated. But she and other business owners in the area say they need financial support if they are expected to stay open.

“Financially, nothing is really prepared [to help]’ Lake said. “The city says, ‘Hey, this shouldn’t just be about Salt Lake.’ And they are not wrong, because this is a national problem.”

But baseball companies say they’ve been dropped by insurers after making repeated claims for damages, meaning these costs are increasingly being funded out of their own pockets.

City leaders have established new police positions and new interagency partnerships to limit the impact of camps and help keep vulnerable people safe. But Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the city’s local businesses and property owners shouldn’t be paying for costs that the state should be helping with.

“The tens of thousands of dollars in increases that you as a resident are going through are due to a lack of funding for the system that should be in place,” Mendenhall said during a July 6 town hall meeting, adding that Utah state homelessness coordinator Wayne Niederhauser is “working so hard to get federal funds.”

The mayor noted that the $55 million approved by state leaders last year and subsequently allocated by the Utah Homelessness Council to create about 1,100 new affordable housing units “is a drop in the bucket compared to what the state can accomplish and is just beginning to do.”

Police measures to support companies

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Police Department Sgt. Nathan Meinzer listens during a community block party at the Gail Miller Resource Center this month.

Kelly Lake’s catering and event planning company opened 27 years ago at 1578 W. 300 South. Since then, Lux has expanded into the floral space – and expanded its presence to buildings adjacent to its original location.

“I love our location in the 3rd West. I love being in Salt Lake,” Lake said. However, she noted that the site has faced a number of challenges — particularly since the shelter opened in 2019 and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic less than a year later. Now the company is feeling the effects of construction at 300 West.

Despite spending thousands on property crime, it hasn’t been hit as hard as other businesses in the area – which she attributes to meeting her “downstairs neighbors” and working with Volunteers of America.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to document their experiences. To report a crime or problem, such as an abundance of needles in her parking lot, she first calls the Salt Lake City Police Department 911 number and is given a case number. Then she submits an ad through the SLC Mobile app so the city knows.

From there, she usually contacts the Salt Lake City Police Officer who works as her borough liaison for updates.

Currently, three Salt Lake City officials serve as district mediators, each representing two or three of the city council’s seven districts. They are meant to foster relationships and build trust to better address community safety issues, and Lake said their connection made her feel heard.

“They are personable and perform at community events,” Lake said. “They will also get back to you, follow up and let you know if a case goes to court.”

She used to be her district contact Sergeant. Nate Meinzer. He now leads a new Salt Lake City policing program that started July 9, stationing five-officer squads at the Gail Miller and Geraldine King resource centers.

These new squads spend about 40 hours a week at the centers, taking calls, getting to know the homeless people who are near or congregating at each shelter, and meeting with business owners in the area, Meinzer said. The Gail Miller Resource Center team recently hosted a community block party on July 14th.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bob Danielson, owner of Alpha Munitions, at the community block party at the Gail Miller Resource Center.

The Salt Lake City Police Department also created a new position last year as “Business Community Engagement Officer,” but that role is specific to the central division of the police department, which is focused on the downtown area.

That officer, Andrew Sylleloglou, is said to serve as the “direct point of contact” for downtown business owners who need help with law enforcement. His role is more proactive — for example, he can suggest businesses add lighting or change their landscaping to deter car theft, spokesman Brent Weisberg said. Businesses are still encouraged to call 911 in an emergency.

Brian Hill, General Manager of The Gateway, works with Sylleloglou as Chair of the Downtown Community Council. He said Sylleloglou provides crime-related updates at council meetings, but he has also helped train business owners on what to say when reporting a crime or concern to the police, to prompt a faster response.

Hill recalled a case where a homeless man locked himself in the Costa Vida toilet at The Gateway to sleep in. When he finally left, the man smashed down a glass door. It was the second time the door had had to be replaced, Hill said, and this time it cost $800.

After police were contacted, staff kept an eye on the man for around 45 minutes as he had not yet left the Gateway premises. But officers didn’t respond until four hours later, Hill said.

“Because we reported it as a property crime — and not that we have an individual behaving violently in front of a dining room full of customers … they classified it as a low priority,” Hill said. “By the time PD came, he was long gone. And they said ‘well there’s nothing we can do about it – the guy isn’t here anymore’ which was extremely frustrating for Costa Vida and The Gateway because what are you doing at this point?”

Hill didn’t specify exactly what Sylleloglou told business owners to tell dispatchers to prompt a quicker police response. But he said the help was grateful as there had been several instances at The Gateway where officers didn’t respond for five or six hours, if at all.

When asked about Hill’s comments, the Salt Lake City Police Department said they could not comment on general statements. A police spokesman said a call similar to the Costa Vida situation described by Hill took place on April 1. Police were initially told that a person broke a window and left. “There was no information to suggest the person was in the restaurant, refused to leave the restaurant, or was initially violent towards others,” the spokesman said in an email.

“While officers responded, they were diverted to other urgent service requests,” the spokesman added. An officer later responded to gather evidence, but the spokesperson noted the case was later dropped because the videos provided to investigators were “of such poor quality” that the person could not be identified.

“You hurt”

Despite the police and The city’s efforts, the business community near 300 West and the Gail Miller Resource Center are still suffering, said Amy Hawkins, chair of Ballpark Community Council.

“Several people have spoken to me personally about how they can no longer claim compensation from their insurance company because they are dropped,” Hawkins said.

Salt Lake City director of homelessness policy and public relations Andrew Johnston said at City Hall earlier this month that the county’s Criminal Justice Advisory Committee wants to address homelessness using a format he says Miami, Fla. has used successfully.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Andrew Johnston, Salt Lake City’s director of homelessness policy and outreach, speaks during a town hall at The Gateway on Thursday, July 6, 2023.

The format would require collaboration between multiple “silos” working with the vulnerable community — including emergency rooms, the Salt Lake City Police Department, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, and area jails.

“When we arrest people, it’s very counterproductive to what we’re trying to do,” Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said during the town hall meeting. “We arrest someone, they go to jail, it affects their ability to get housing, they fall behind in terms of their ability to qualify. So helping them and providing them with the resources they need is far better than trying to push ourselves out of this problem.”

But the work to improve these silos will take time — especially raising funds. And entrepreneurs, in the meantime, still want financial support.

Hawkins said she was trying to add a “broken window” fund to HB499, a homeless services amendment bill passed by lawmakers in the spring. Utah doesn’t have a property restitution fund, Hawkins said. Entrepreneurs who feel they can’t claim property damage compensation are on their own.

“We cannot afford for the areas around the homeless centers to become empty warehouses or vacant buildings because that would create more problems and exacerbate the problem,” Hawkins said.

“We shouldn’t penalize people who have either been there in the first place or have chosen to locate their business in this area,” she continued. “And since [are] People who were there, who are still there – trying to make it. And it hurts them.”

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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