Is it time for the state to appoint a homeless czar?
How else can we be sure local leaders, who exist in a naturally competitive environment, are making decisions in everyone’s best interest, not just protecting their own turf?
City and county leaders have a plan that, when finished, will have two of four shelters existing outside the boundaries of Salt Lake City. The county sheriff complains he doesn’t have enough jail space to handle all the criminals preying on the homeless around the current shelter downtown, let alone all the other criminals his deputies pick up.
And the city seems deaf to the sheriff’s 21-point
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plan for reducing crime around the shelter this summer.
That’s not surprising, by the way. The mayor and police chief are naturally suspicious of the sheriff telling them how to control crime within their own city limits.
So why not appoint one independent person and give him or her the authority to allocate resources, make tough decisions and divide the duties of each government?
I wish I could take credit for this idea. Actually, it belongs to Deseret News opinion editor Hal Boyd, who brought it up in a recent editorial board meeting with Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski. She was unimpressed, turning the question back on him.
“Well, why do you think that would be more effective?” she said, adding that she believes the current Collective Impact Committee, made up of various political leaders and other stakeholders, is working well.
And yet summer is coming, and while Biskupski and County Mayor Ben McAdams have announced they are jointly working on a plan to control crime near the current shelter, neither one seems to be noticing the sheriff already has one.
Among other things, he would open a monitored camping area downtown, mirroring what has been done in other large urban centers. That way, instead of just telling people they can’t sleep on the sidewalk, police could point them to a place where they could sleep.
He calls it a plan for an imminent problem, wondering what will happen to people downtown when the new shelters open and the one on Rio Grande closes.
He envisions the city and county jointly operating and monitoring the camping area, which brings us back to the tug-of-war between jurisdictions.
Which brings us back to the czar.
The sheriff raised the idea of a czar in an editorial board meeting Tuesday, without being prompted.
“In a perfect world, it would be kind of good to have somebody say, OK, look, we’re going to be agnostic here. Your responsibility, Salt Lake County, is that and that and that. We’re going to judge you based on that. And Salt Lake City, this is the county’s line, this is your line,” Winder said, adding that he would support a czar “100 percent,” provided that person was given real authority and a real budget, and that all the governments involved were behind the idea.
The sheriff said he worries that, with shelters spread among several cities, a sense of uniformity will be lost. A czar could make sure “we don’t have one city saying we did it this way, which is better than your way.”
Ideally, the Legislature would appoint a czar and outline his or her authority. Or the leaders of the jurisdictions on the front lines of helping the homeless could enter into a memorandum of understanding, creating the position and funding it.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, this would cost money. A czar needs a salary and staff. It could be a temporary position until a workable system is in place.
The truth, however, is that more money will be needed, regardless, to deal with the crime problem near Rio Grande and in the rest of the county.
The sheriff told us he’s tired of county leaders telling him they think treatment programs are more effective than jails, but then not providing money for either. But he’s also tired of a public he believes expects “everything to be cured and not pay a dime for it.”
A czar wouldn’t solve that problem, but he or she could be an important independent leader for a homeless issue that concerns everyone.