Homeless activity in Provo worries residents

2009-10-04T00:40:00Z 2014-04-02T15:42:01Z Homeless activity in Provo worries residentsHeidi Toth - Daily Herald Daily Herald
October 04, 2009 12:40 am  • 

PROVO -- Counts show the numbers of homeless people aren't up in Provo, but they've gotten a few people's attention nonetheless.

At the Sept. 22 Municipal Council meeting, four people -- three from the Franklin neighborhood that abuts Pioneer Park and one who works at Nu Skin -- said they were concerned about the behavior they were seeing homeless people engage in, including fighting, public intoxication and "accosting" people asking for money, one man said.

Earlier that day, in a work session, Carol Walker, the economic development policy adviser for the council, said homeless people panhandling was a concern raised by downtown property owners that stood in the way of revitalizing the downtown area.

Bob Allen, the neighborhood chairman for Franklin neighborhood, said he thinks the problem is getting worse. He's called the police twice recently because a group of men were either verbally or physically fighting. Neighbors have told him they're afraid to let their children play in the park.

"If they just behaved themselves like you would expect everyone else would, there wouldn't be any problem," he said.

Bill Hulterstrom, president of United Way of Utah County, is on a countywide committee that addresses homelessness. He said they do not believe the number of homeless people in Provo is increasing. A count done by the state in January showed that the numbers of homeless people were actually down in Utah County while they were up statewide.

The count is done every January in an attempt to get the most accurate numbers possible, but what that doesn't take into consideration is that January in Utah is not a good time to be sans shelter. Utah County doesn't have any homeless shelters, but Salt Lake City does. It's possible, therefore, that people migrate to Utah County in the summer.

But even with Allen's increased phone calls to the police, Provo police officers haven't noticed much of an increase in illegal activity related to homeless people. Just being homeless, or even loitering in public places, is not a crime, so the city doesn't track it.

"We don't have a reason to arrest people and stop people for just sitting around the park," said city spokeswoman Helen Anderson.

The police didn't see a significant increase in the number of crimes such as public intoxication and panhandling. Most likely, since residents of Provo were outside and using city facilities, they noticed it more, she said.

"At this time of year, we anticipate that more people at least pay attention to who's out and about," she said. "We haven't really received any other complaints other than what was brought to our attention at the city council meeting."

As for this area not having any shelters, the Food and Care Coalition would like to change that. The organization, which provides meals, laundry, showers and other services for homeless people, moved last week from its downtown home to a spiffy new building in southeast Provo. That could pull some of the homeless traffic away from the downtown area, as Allen is hoping.

People involved are hoping they'll actually be able to provide overnight housing, a move that right now is complicated by city ordinances, Eileen Bidstrup, who works at the dental clinic at the coalition, said on a tour of the new facility a week ago.

Provo ordinances would allow overnight shelters as a conditional use in four zones, including heavy commercial and manufacturing, said planner Nathan Murray. Shelters are considered high impact, but they are allowed within the city.

The Food and Care Coalition does have motel vouchers for people who need a place to stay, but Coalition Executive Director Brent Crane said in a previous interview with the Daily Herald that there simply are not enough to meet the current needs.

Heidi Toth can be reached at (801) 344-2556 or htoth@heraldextra.com.

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