SALT LAKE CITY — A 500 West median redesign. New security cameras. Brighter street lights. More restrooms and garbage cans.
Those are all changes proposed by Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Police Chief Mike Brown to improve conditions and reduce crime in the Rio Grande neighborhood this summer.
"People are going to see a big change," said the mayor's spokesman, Matthew Rojas, in an interview Thursday. "This summer there is going to be a different atmosphere down there."
Open-air drug dealing, camping and health concerns — including public defecation — have become a norm along 500 West, near the Road Home shelter. The situation fuels downtown business and resident fears, which intensify as camping increases with rising temperatures.
Along with budgeting more than $2 million for homeless service needs, Biskupski has proposed $220,000 from the general road fund to tear out the north end of the 500 West median and replace it with temporary parking for police officers and social workers.
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The parking would accommodate traffic for the city's Community Connection's Center, a facility located directly across the street from the Road Home that helps connect people to housing or treatment services.
That area also acts as a "hot spot for drug trafficking," Rojas said.
"So by interrupting that, we're hoping to change the dynamic for those who want to seek help," he said.
"The goal is really to make the area safe for those that live and work down there, and, very importantly, those who are seeking services," Rojas said.
Four high-definition cameras are also proposed to be installed along 500 West to "better target" drug dealing and perhaps capture license plates of offenders, he said.
"We'll be able to better target whose selling drugs because we'll have those eyes in the sky," Rojas said.
About $30,000 is budgeted for the cameras, from the Information Management Systems, Public Services and Police Department funds, Rojas said.
Rojas stressed that the changes are temporary, to help improve conditions until the Road Home closes in June 2019.
He said the changes on 500 West — combined with Salt Lake County's efforts to open new jail beds — will help mitigate concerns around the Road Home while the state, city and county continue working on redesigning the homeless services system with three new homeless resource centers.16 comments on this story
Efforts to reduce the 1,100-bed downtown shelter's population began with the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee setting aside funds to begin removing families from the shelter and connect them with housing.
Of the $2.1 million budgeted for homeless needs, Biskupski targeted $685,000 to continue Operation Diversion, a program meant to separate criminals from the addicted and divert people to treatment.
The budget also includes $80,000 for motel vouchers, $200,000 for emergency winter shelter and $220,000 for portable bathrooms.
The installation of new LED street lighting began last year and is slated to be completed this year, Rojas said.