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Sugar House police take on panhandling problem

Thursday, June 21, 2012760 views

The Sugar House Business District attracts shoppers, but it also attracts panhandlers asking pedestrians and drivers for money. Now, police are working to discourage the practice in Sugar House.

“The biggest problem with the panhandling is the traffic,” Salt Lake City Police Department Detective Tyler Boelter said. The panhandlers generally have to walk into the street to accept money from people’s cars. This impedes traffic.

He added that when residents give panhandlers money, it only furthers the problem. “[Panhandling] is the catalyst for other issues, including road rage and pedestrian safety,” Boelter said.

The SLCPD is working on informing the public about better ways to help the homeless. The police in Sugar House are in the process of putting together an enforcement program.

Tickets will be given to the individuals who are impeding traffic, whether they are the panhandlers or the people giving them money.

“There are other systems out there that can get the people the help they want and deserve,” Boelter said.

One of those resources is the Homeless Outreach Service Team. The HOST program works with volunteer organizations for the homeless, the SLCP, and members of the community.

The program provides meters that people can put money in -- instead of giving the money to panhandlers. The money is then given to volunteer programs such as the Road Home and Volunteers of America.

Salt Lake City donates the meters for the HOST program. It costs $1,500 to sponsor the red meter in front of a business for one year.

Downtown Salt Lake City has been participating in the program for a year. During that time, $19,000 was raised for HOST.

Sugar House doesn’t have to do anything to get ready for the program. There is a meter available that can be installed in Sugar House if a sponsor is found for it.

Boelter came to the Sugar House Community Council and Sugar House Merchants Association to inform the members on the HOST program and see if anyone would be interested in sponsoring one. More meters may become available if the current sponsors choose not to renew.

“If there’s a big response [to sponsorship opportunities], I’ll see if more meters need to be made,” Sgt. Michelle Ross said. “Donating money through the HOST program will get better results for your money.”

Zions Bank currently sponsors a meter downtown. “Oftentimes people want to help but they don’t know how to help. [HOST meters] provide a convenient place to give,” said Rob Brough, executive vice president of Zions Bank.

In addition to the meters, the SLCP has a trained bike force that brings proactive relief to the homeless. The police officers build a rapport with individuals and keep in contact with them.

“We want to help before it becomes a problem,” Ross said. “We’re not going to cure anything by sending [the homeless] people to jail. This is a more humane way to deal with the problem.”

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