‘No Camping’ ordinance intended to keep homeless problems out of South Jordan

May 30, 2018, 6:15 PM | Updated: May 31, 2018, 1:15 pm

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah – The South Jordan City Council banned camping on public property in May after police have discovered more people camping along the Jordan River Trail. City officials wanted to get in front of a public health and safety problem it saw spreading their direction.

In fall of 2017, KSL reported about massive homeless camps further north on the Jordan River and up Provo Canyon. We didn’t find any camps Wednesday along the Jordan River Trail in South Jordan, but officials from the Salt Lake County Health Department confirmed they have seen sporadic camping in the area.

City officials wanted another tool to address the issue, so city council passed the no camping ordinance on May 1.

“Some people need homeless resources to help them,” said Steven Schaefermeyer, South Jordan’s director of planning.

He said that has been the aim of the new city ordinance that prohibits camping on public property.

“They’re not out to send people to jail,” said Schaefermeyer. “That’s why the ‘no camping ordinance’ is only an infraction.”

He said the infraction was the equivalent of a parking ticket.

“What we’re seeing here on the Jordan River in West Jordan and South Jordan is just the garbage and trash from somebody that maybe camped overnight and left a few things.”

The city wanted to educate people about resources for the homeless, and what’s appropriate in public areas by the river, and elsewhere in the city, saying camping was not appropriate.

“Bicyclists or runners would see people camping along the trail and so they were contacting police,” said Schaefermeyer.

When alerted by the public, officers from the South Jordan Police Department have discovered primarily abandoned camps with garbage, including human waste and signs of illegal drug activity.

“It’s difficult for our officers to clean up these campsites on their own,” said Schaefermeyer.

Until May 1, South Jordan never had a camping ordinance. Neighboring communities Draper, Bluffdale and Sandy did, and so did Salt Lake County.

The county’s bureau manager of the Environmental Health Division, Dale Keller, has handled homeless camping issues.

“Camping is not real common here,” he said of South Jordan. “But, [homeless encampments are] certainly moving south. Homelessness is not a crime, but the negative environmental impact is a problem.”

He said it has become a major sanitation issue for people camping by the river, and the trail users.

“You have people camping without water, without proper housing, without human waste disposal, garbage disposal. Then it becomes a public health issue,” said Keller.

The health department has received 300 to 500 complaints for public camping every year, and Keller said the problem just keeps getting worse.

“Problems that we saw during the summer, we’re now seeing during the winter months. Just a huge problem,” he said.

When the county health department gets a complaint, Keller said they go clean up the site with compassion.

“We treat the individuals with respect,” said Keller. “We get that they have a story and a problem. We don’t treat them as criminals.”

The river areas in South Jordan are not as problematic as the area around 3900 South, he said. That’s where the health department hauled out more than 500 tons of garbage, tarps, wood structures and other materials when it cleaned out homeless encampments last fall.

“What we’re seeing here on the Jordan River in West Jordan and South Jordan is just the garbage and trash from somebody that maybe camped overnight and left a few things,” said Keller.

KSL reached out to advocates for the homeless to get their impression of the ordinance. They declined comment.

South Jordan police officials said they planned to make a couple of trips down to the river banks each month looking for camps.

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‘No Camping’ ordinance intended to keep homeless problems out of South Jordan