OGDEN — The decision last week by Ogden officials to disperse the homeless encampment on 33rd Street struck Loveena Winkelkotter as unfair.
“They’re not given any support. They’re just told they need to leave,” she said. “You can’t tell someone to leave if there’s nowhere for them to go.”
Her dismay and discord among others over the forced removal of the tent city encampment spurred a small demonstration Monday on Washington Boulevard, across from the Ogden municipal building. Around 10 people gathered, variously advocating for the homeless and what they say should be the right of the homeless to gather and form encampments.
“I’m just hoping to open a few eyes,” said James Gilbery, another participant.
He’s long advocated for the homeless and those in need, conducting clothing collection drives to help out. In fact, Gilbery, a barber, had made various trips to the 33rd Street encampment to donate food, blankets and clothes and said some there were leery of moving in to homeless shelters due to concerns about contracting COVID-19 or fear of sexual assault. Now, he went on, “they’re just kind of spread all over, which is a sad thing.”
Malik Dayo, an Ogden advocate for social causes who organized Monday’s demonstration, said the homeless dispersed should have the right to return to the 33rd Street location and recreate the encampment. He called on those opposed to last week’s action to voice their displeasure with Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell and Ogden City Council members.
“They’re not separate from our community. They’re part of our community,” he said of the homeless.
Dayo also cited COVID-19 guidelines for the homeless crafted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those guidelines read, in part, that if other housing options aren’t available, those living in encampments should be allowed to remain.
“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread,” read the CDC guidelines.
Police and shelter officials have previously told the Standard-Examiner that Lantern House and other facilities for the homeless in Ogden have space available and can accommodate more people.
The guidelines also encourage allowing 12 square feet of space per person, helping ensure access to restroom facilities and more.
Gilbery had never before seen such a large-scale encampment in Ogden in such a visible public space, along the edge of 33rd Street outside the Lantern House homeless shelter. Typically, the homeless here scatter to wooded areas, out of the publie eye.
Ogden officials say the encampment — which grew to perhaps 30 tents and other makeshift structures and as many as 60 people — had gradually taken shape in recent months. The move to disperse those at the location followed a lower-key approach of periodically asking the homeless to temporarily remove their tents and makeshift homes from beside the street so city crews could clean the location. After the cleanup efforts, the homeless would return.
In deciding to make them move once and for all, officials cited increased health concerns brought on by unsanitary conditions at the site and reports of assaults and other criminal activity. City representatives and advocates for the homeless worked with the encampment tenants, directing them to homeless shelters and other services at their disposal. Some accepted offers of help, others didn’t.
“Many went to the Lantern House (which at the time had nearly 200 beds available). Others were picked up by family and or friends,” Lt. Brian Enyon of the Ogden Police Department said in a message Monday to the Standard-Examiner. “Some were already staying at the Lantern House and removed their property from the street/sidewalk. In some instances, individuals were transported by the police to various service locations.”
Participants in Monday’s demonstration had initially talked of temporarily putting up tents along the sidewalk on Washington Boulevard as a show of solidarity with the homeless. Authorities warned they could be cited for putting up structures on public accesses without a permit, though.
In the end, the demonstrators sat on the ground, stood and sat on folding chairs on the sidewalk on the west side of Washington Boulevard between 25th and 26th streets. Dayo said Ogden police representatives brought the demonstrators water and hats for the cold.