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Ongoing community cleanup strives to reduce environmental hazards

Salt Lake County officials want to let people know that cleaning up areas where people struggling with homelessness gather and sometimes live is a daily process intended to keep such areas clean and safe. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s nothing like Salt Lake City’s Operation Rio Grande, which was a multi-agency approach to crime reduction within the boundaries of North Temple to 900 South and from 300 East to I-15 in Salt Lake City.

Rather, the Salt Lake County Health Department’s community cleanup is an effort to clean areas where those struggling with homelessness in Salt Lake City gather, and sometimes, live.

One recent focus for the health department was the area surrounding the Salt Lake City library. That cleanup happened early Tuesday morning, December 10.

Representatives from the health department say they’re concerned that this daily cleanup has been misconstrued by some, including some in the media.

“We do this in downtown Salt Lake,” said Nicholas Rupp from the Salt Lake County Health Department, “in the foothills above the city, along the Jordan River. We do it along the river into communities in the southern part of the county. Just, wherever we see a need for abating some environmental health concerns.”

Those health concerns include human waste, trash and used needles.  The cleanups happen Monday through Friday throughout the county, and those who are affected are given between 24 and 72 hours notice.

“In this case, yesterday, Salt Lake City Fire came through and let everyone know (who was camping there) that we’d be conducting this cleanup with our law enforcement and fire partners this morning,” Rupp said.

“So they had plenty of notice. We also post notices on telephone poles, trees, things like that,” Rupp said.

Spokesperson Nicholas Rupp says these cleanups aren’t a surprise either — people are given at least a day’s notice before crews move in. All the while, Rupp says, people are reminded of the resources that are available to them.

“So, mental health, substance abuse, housing referrals, all of that,” Rupp said.

Contributing: Simone Seikaly