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Police, health officials clearing homeless camps in City Creek Canyon

SALT LAKE CITY — After four days of camping in a tent at a secluded spot in City Creek Canyon, John and Alma were served with an eviction notice Monday.

Conditions in the canyon have deteriorated to the point that police and health department officials began clearing transient camps Monday morning, giving occupants 24 hours to clear the area. Officials are attempting to refer campers to established shelters and programs that can assist them.

Salt Lake police said the area has become littered with human waste and trash, which is a health hazard and problematic because the area is a watershed. Some people camping in the area have been harassing canyon users by aggressive panhandling or by seeking rides. One person was threatened with a knife, police said.

Fires have been built outside of fire pits, which officers fear could readily result in a wildfire in the tinder dry canyon, which is rimmed by homes. People camping in the canyon have been trespassing into the yards of houses at the top of the canyon, resulting in a spike of burglaries and thefts.

"Some have even entered private property to defecate and urinate, "which is completely unacceptable for those residents. We have to deal with that," said Salt Lake police detective Charli Goodman.

Police and wildlife officers have also found evidence of the poaching of deer, rabbits and possibly a moose.

Nicholas Rupp, with the Salt Lake County Health Department, said its interest in clearing camps is preserving the environment and addressing public health hazards.

But police and the health department were also teaming up with nonprofit agencies that serve homeless individuals and families in an attempt to direct people into shelter and programs than can assist them.

"It's rewarding to see individuals who do choose to accept services or go into shelter," Rupp said.

John and Alma said camping in the canyon was a better option than staying with friends or even relatives who have stolen from them. Alma's health is poor, she said. She wonders how much longer she can can endure living outdoors.

"We get kicked out of everywhere we go," John lamented.

John said he and Alma have camped in the canyon because "it was quiet and no one bothered us. Neither of us have jobs. We're on SSI (Supplemental Security Income). We don't do drugs."

While he was empathetic to their plight, detective Ron Bruno told the pair that staying in the canyon is not permitted.

"You are camping out illegally," said Bruno, who heads the department's Crisis Intervention Team. "However, we can make sure you have some resources."

With that, Bruno gave the pair the telephone number of a longtime homeless outreach worker with Volunteers of America. He told Alma her health issues could also be addressed.

John said he and Alma plan to comply with the order to leave. "I'm going to make some phone calls and find some place no one bothers us, like you guys," John said, referring to reporters tagging along with police and health department officials Monday.