Eric Shults waits in line for a room at Lantern House shelter on Thursday night, Feb. 9, 2017. The annual Point-in-Time count to survey the homeless will take place Jan. 25-27, 2018. Through it, Weber and Davis county officials hope to get a better idea of the impact Salt Lake City’s Operation Rio Grande has had on surrounding counties.
OGDEN — This week’s effort to count homeless people in Weber and Davis counties could be a wild one, to say the least.
The nationwide county-by-county Point-in-Time survey, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, takes place each year on the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday in January. Volunteers fan out in the early morning hours of those three days, scouring the county for homeless individuals to interview about their situations. From those interviews, social-service providers are better able to tailor their assistance to the homeless.
This year’s count takes place Jan. 25-27, 2018.
> Weber, Davis counties need volunteers to help find and count the homeless
The 2018 count in Northern Utah is expected to be unlike any other in recent memory, according to Andi Beadles, executive director of the Weber Housing Authority. She suspects they’ll see much higher numbers of people sleeping on the streets this year.
Not only that, but Beadles says she’s expecting a “scarier crowd” at this year’s count. The homeless people her office had been used to dealing with were always considered friendly and “totally harmless.” But in the past year they’re increasingly suspicious and nervous.
> Weber County sees dramatic increase in volunteers for homeless count
“We’re starting to see a rougher crowd up here,” Beadles said. “A crowd we’re not used to.”
As a result, Beadles says her outreach workers, who are tasked with approaching the homeless out on the streets, are required to take more precautions. Beadles said she hates to generalize, but Ogden’s homeless population appears to be more violent and threatening, and involved in more drug problems.
> Sleepless in Davis County — hunting for the homeless
“I make our people carry Mace now,” she said. “I didn’t have to used to do that, but for safety sake I do now.”
Beadles and others blame the changes they’re seeing on last August’s Operation Rio Grande, the hardline stance Salt Lake City began taking with its homeless population in the downtown Rio Grande District. As that city has cracked down on crime and drug use among its homeless, many of those individuals have dispersed into neighboring counties.
Indeed, because of this dispersal, Beadles says in her office they refer to Salt Lake’s Operation Rio Grande by another name — “Operation Leaf Blower.”
“They scattered everything to the wind,” explains Bill Campbell, an outreach volunteer with the Weber Housing Authority in Ogden.
Basically, the homeless in Salt Lake City were given three options, according to Beadles — go to jail, get into drug treatment, or leave town.
“So those who aren’t interested in jail or treatment, they’ve come our way,” she said. “I don’t know what Salt Lake could have done differently, but all they did was move those folks up here, and move them down to Provo.”
Anecdotally, Davis County has seen a similar increase in homelessness since Operation Rio Grande began. Daneen Adams, assistant executive director for the nonprofit Open Doors organization, says her county has never had a large chronic homeless population.
Adams has also heard about issues with the temperament of the homeless making their way into Davis County.
“We’ve never had a problem like that before,” she said. “The homeless people we find are usually single moms with kids, in the Walmart parking lot.”
Adams suspects her county will see an increase in more hardcore homeless individuals at this year’s count, particularly in the southern end of the county. She says in Davis County they’ve been calling Salt Lake’s operation by a different name — simply “The Sweep.”
“As in, they just sweep all the problems up here,” she said. “Because if you go up City Creek and drop down into North Salt Lake, that’s Davis County.”
Adams hopes the count will shed light on the homeless problems her county will face in coming years. She says the count should allow the county to collect hard data in order to secure funding and assistance for the homeless.
“We definitely need to get some information if the homeless population is increasing like everybody suspects, so we have some data to back them up and get them some help,” Adams said.
Campbell, who spends two mornings a week out looking for the homeless in and around Ogden, says he’s noticed an influx of homeless people in recent months. And he says the authorities have been playing catch-up trying to detail the extent of the new homeless problem.
“We’re seeing a lot of strange faces, and in a lot of different places,” Campbell said. “They’re not in the places they used to be, like out by the pond on 21st Street. I think the homeless population has grown and migrated. They’re just not staying in the same old places they used to.”
Story continues below photo.
This April 18, 2017, file photo, people gather along the street near a homeless shelter, in Salt Lake City. The annual Point-in-Time count to survey the homeless will take place Jan. 25-27, 2018. Through it, Weber and Davis county officials hope to get a better idea of the impact Salt Lake City’s Operation Rio Grande has had on surrounding counties.
Beadles says that while she understands Salt Lake is having problems with the homeless, she’s not sure Operation Rio Grande is solving that problem.
“They’re basically criminalizing homelessness,” she said.
Not to mention shifting the problem north and south of the capital city.
Beadles says Weber County is ill-prepared for the changes in the homeless population that are coming as a result of the Operation Rio Grande shakeup, but they’re working on getting up to speed.
“We really don’t have any numbers on it, but our shelters are overcrowded and overwhelmed,” she said. “And all the service providers are seeing this rougher crowd.”
Beadles has written a grant for a homeless plan in Weber County that will prepare for the coming changes, “so we don’t have the same thing happen to us that happened at Rio Grande.”
Beadles also hopes her county is able to shake some money out of the Utah Legislature in the next year or two.
“Because right now, all the homeless resources are going to Salt Lake,” she said. “And Salt Lake’s problems are coming our way.”
Volunteers are still needed for this week’s Point-in-Time counts for both Weber and Davis counties. To volunteer in Weber County, sign up at https://2018pit.wufoo.com/forms/z1iuzaqp1p3beph, justserve.org, or call 801-399-8691. A mandatory one-hour training session for volunteers will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan 23, in the Weber Human Services building, 237 26th St., Ogden. The count will be conducted from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. Jan. 25-27.
To help out in Davis County, register at volunteermatch.org, justserve.org, or call 801-444-3191. A two-hour training session will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 24, in the Safe Harbor Crisis Center, 225 N. Adamswood Road, Layton. The count will take place from 3:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. Jan. 25-27.
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.