Opinion: Homeless camps are impacting my business. Police say they can’t help.

It is the responsibility of our elected officials and policymakers to manage these issues and provide for the safety of our citizens and businesses.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A no camping sign as the site of a future legal homeless camp is announced in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

In September, I signed on as one of the nine plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Salt Lake City over its handling of homeless camps. I was disappointed to see the case thrown out.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s response that the issue is best addressed by elected officials and policymakers, not the courts, indicates that she doesn’t understand the intent of the lawsuit. Her statement reflects exactly what the lawsuit asks: to give the elected officials and policymakers who have dropped the ball the responsibility — and hopefully the motivation and incentive — to do something to help minimize the problem.

Allow me to provide some examples which demonstrate the concern. A transient woman lived in the alley behind my business for six weeks. She would scream obscenities at our cars and charge them as we would try to drive by. People in an encampment to the side of our building would ask our customers if they wanted to purchase drugs. Encampment residents built fires in grocery carts. Upon confronting a transient man that was defecating against our back door, he threatened to “gut” me with his knife. The police allowed him to continue living in the alley anyway. A homeless individual sat pleasuring himself in our private parking lot for three hours. The police never came, despite multiple calls requesting assistance.

Elected officials and policymakers are expected to help in these situations. Instead, the situations were ignored and no action was taken, regardless of the number of times they were reported. As a business owner, I was powerless to do anything about these situations. I wanted to feel safe, and I wanted my employees to feel safe.

A police officer who could see my frustration spoke to me about it. He said that we weren’t getting much response because our reports indicated the issues involved a person experiencing homelessness. The officer indicated that law enforcement’s hands were tied because the mayor’s office had asked them to leave the homeless alone. He suggested that we should not include the homelessness information in our report and just focus on the illegal activity. For example, drug use, defecation, lewdness etc. Upon following his advice, we were able to get a bit more help.

As a business owner and tax-paying citizen, I should be able to focus on my business, my employees and everything that happens inside my walls. That is where my expertise, and responsibility, lie.

I am not an expert in handling a transient woman attacking me inside my business, extinguishing shopping cart fires or managing inappropriate public behavior. I do not have the answers on how to handle these situations. I would like to stay in my lane and help my own business to thrive.

It is the responsibility of our elected officials and policymakers to manage these issues and provide for the safety of our citizens and businesses. These items and concerns are in their lane. These areas are a part of their job and what they are paid to manage so citizens feel safe and so businesses can focus on business. That is what the lawsuit was about.

(Photo courtesy of Randy Topham) Randy Topham

Randy Topham loves Salt Lake City. He owns a commercial property, as well as a personal residence, in the city.

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