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What is a camp abatement?
- A camp abatement is a cleaning event that takes place at a site where people experiencing unsheltered homelessness are congregating for an extended period of time. Camp abatements are carried out in areas that include environmental public health concerns. Salt Lake County Health Department is mandated by law to maintain public health and safety, and this includes the abatements that happen throughout the County.
How does the city or the county health department determine what camps need a camp abatement?
- Once the city or county learns of an encampment, health inspectors visit the area to evaluate whether public and / or environmental health deficiencies would require people to pick up their belongings and move in order to clear away potentially hazardous materials, like human waste or needles. At the same time, outreach workers are sent to the area to engage with anyone who may be experiencing homelessness and in need of services. Reports on each of these encampment areas are brought to a weekly meeting convened by the city. In that meeting a group of internal city departments, county health officials, and outreach partners determine what locations may need this kind of intervention, or what can be cleaned up by simply sending a contracted cleaning crew to pick up litter.
What happens during a camp abatement?
- Once a site is determined to be in need of a camp abatement, outreach workers are notified and asked to visit the campers to offer services to the people who are camping. These services can range from basic need supplies to housing voucher applications. Once outreach workers have made this contact, health dept and police dept officials reach out to any remaining campers and provide written notification of the planned abatement ahead of the time that the event is scheduled to begin. On the day of the event, health dept officials, a cleaning contractor, and city depts come together at the encampment site. Anyone who hasn’t left on their own is then asked to pack up their belongings and leave the area. Once it is cleared, city teams provide a deep clean to the area, clearing it of any remaining debris or biowaste. Once this is complete, the teams pick up and move to the next location.
How is this different from a camp closure?
- An abatement is a cleaning event that is over once crews have finished their work. During the event, people are not allowed to remain in the area that needs to be cleaned, Any ongoing enforcement of the area is minimal. If people continue to set up camp in the same area after abatement, the process of evaluation and clean up will begin again and can happen more than once in the same location if conditions begin to deteriorate again. A camp closure would require people to leave the area and include consistent enforcement to ensure that camps are not set up again. A camp closure is something that the community will only undertake if and when sufficient alternatives have been identified, like housing, shelter, or treatment opportunities.
Does a camp abatement have anything to do with enforcing the city’s camping ordinance?
- It does not. An abatement is a way to ensure the health and cleanliness of a camping hot spot, but does not include citing the campers for violation of the no camping ordinance. Camp cleanings allow the city to keep a camping hot spot maintained without having to proceed to actions that could result in policing or punishing people for being homeless or in poverty.
Why are the police involved?
- Police are involved in abatements so that they can step in to ensure safety. This is called a “standby assist” and the police are only there to ensure that the event goes safely and smoothly for the staff doing the clean up and for those that are camping. Police are not there to cite people for camping.
What happens to belongings that are left at the clean up site?
- Any belongings that are left at the site after the warning period is over are considered abandoned and thrown away. Sometimes people may be in possession of items that are hazardous to their health or to the health of anyone who encounters that item (a soiled tent or sleeping bag, for example), and these items can be removed only under the regulatory authority of the health department.
How can I help our unsheltered homeless community?
- On occasion, a well meaning person may drop food off at an encampment where there isn’t sufficient infrastructure in place (like trash cans, bathrooms, or options for refrigeration), and the food ends up spoiling or being tossed in the street. This can lead to the development of some of the environmental concerns that trigger the need for a camp abatement. There are organizations that provide food, clothing, and other necessities to people living unsheltered. Donating your time or money to those organizations is both helpful to unsheltered people, and helps keep the city clean and safe.