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SLC rallies to end the war on the homeless

By Gregory Murray

Salt Lake City protest demands end to war on homeless people.

Salt Lake City, UT — More than 50 people gathered in the heart of Salt Lake City on August 22 to protest the ongoing “Operation Rio Grande,” an act of police violence that has displaced hundreds of homeless people and led to over 400 arrests in just a few days.

Utah Against Police Brutality organized the protest, which took place in the Rio Grande area of Salt Lake City — where almost all vital homeless services are located. Those who have not been arrested have been pushed further and further from The Road Home shelter and other services on which they rely.

Jason Brentner, a former resident of the Road Home shelter, spoke to the crowd about how Operation Rio Grande harms homeless people in Salt Lake City, “When you spread out the homeless population, like they’re doing right now with Operation Rio Grande, you are hurting people’s chances of survival. The City of Salt Lake and the SLCPD, the message you are sending is that a shopping mall and a cafe is worth more than a person’s life.” Brentner is referring here to the Gateway Mall and the Pioneer Park Coalition, who have been active supporters of the war against the homeless.

Operation Rio Grande was born out of a desire from developers and business owners in the Rio Grande neighborhood to push homeless people out in order to make area more palatable to upper class shoppers. Wealthy business owners created the Pioneer Park Coalition as an advocacy group for business and property owners, with the prime objective to permanently move the homeless out of sight of downtown.

Plans are being made to close the Road Home shelter, which houses 1100 persons, and to open up three shelters across the valley which jointly will only shelter approximately 700 people. These new shelters will not open for years. City officials and the police have chosen to put profits before people.

Lex Scott, an organizer with the United Front Party, addressed the media’s coverage of the operation. “The media says they [the police] are getting rid of the criminal element, but that is not what they’re doing. They are criminalizing homelessness. Being homeless is not a crime!”

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