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Mitchell hurting image of homeless

In the 10 days since Elizabeth Smart came home, Robert admits his attitude about her accused kidnapper has turned into a full-blown grudge.

As the 48-year-old homeless man queued up for one of the 50 or so temporary labor jobs available in the west part of town this weekend, he said that, yes, he definitely feels his image is being tainted because the Smart kidnapping has been linked to a homeless man doing a day labor job.

"I don't like it one bit," he said, noting that an honest way to make a living had never really been questioned until 11 days ago. "Now people kind of wonder about you. Or at least you wonder if they're wondering about you. Guys at the shelter are talking about it a lot. We're worried the jobs won't come like they usually do this summer."

Pamela Atkinson, the area's leading homeless advocate and contact, said many homeless people have told her they believe they are being stereotyped because of Brian David Mitchell, a homeless street preacher who worked a half day on the Smart family's roof and is now charged in Elizabeth's kidnapping.

The big difference, Atkinson said, is Mitchell was invited by the family to the household and was not screened beforehand by a state temporary service office as most day laborers are.

"There are many regulars who turn up every day for work, who are honorable and work hard," she said. "And I don't think people realize that people panhandling and who ask for handouts as Mitchell regularly did are actually not homeless. They often as not throw their signs in their cars at the end of the day.

"There are many homeless folks who use these jobs to get out of the shelters and the camps," she said. "My homeless friends are very worried that those vitally important warm weather jobs that will help them do that won't be coming in because of this."

The shared attitude mentioned by several men at The Road Home and the Salvation Army shelters in the past week is that Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, also accused in the kidnapping, are criminal defendants first, not homeless people.

The office that handles temporary job requests say it has had a few workers mention possible ripple effects from the Smart kidnapping.

"And maybe for a couple days right after requests for day help really dropped off," said Mike Asmussen, case manager at the placement office at about 2900 South and 900 West in Salt Lake. "But that probably had as much to do with people being interested in what was happening with Elizabeth and not deciding not to hire someone who might be homeless."

Asmussen said the placement office knows temporary workers very well and that any problems between an employer and a worker are usually minor and involve unexplained absences, not someone being harmed.

"There are many families out there who have hired temporary people for years without any problems," he said, noting the agency has 800 homes and businesses that regularly use labor from his office.

From July 1 through today, 1,552 jobs have come through the office, and 3,404 people have been placed. About 35 percent of those people are homeless, he said.

Violet Smit, supervisor of the placement office, said it's important to day laborers that they not be painted with the same brush as those said to be involved in the kidnapping.

"It's been a tough year already," Smit said. "Because of the mild winter we lost on the snow removal work we usually do. Plus the economy is sending more highly skilled people through the office, so all of that combined could affect some people."


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com