OGDEN — A large contingent of Ogden citizens spoke out during a City Council meeting this week, decrying the city’s recent dispersal of a homeless encampment near the Lantern House.
In mid-December, Ogden police and others worked to remove the makeshift camp, which was formed with tents and other structures and had been set up just outside of the Lantern House homeless shelter on 33rd Street, west of Wall Avenue.
City officials have said the action was taken after receiving complaints from residents and business owners in the area and after multiple police responses to incidents related to assault, theft, vandalism, illegal campfires and more. Weber-Morgan Health Department officials also noted concern about human waste at the site. Ogden Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson said since police broke up the camp, it has moved to a place outside of the city’s jurisdiction.
On Tuesday, multiple citizens asked the Ogden administration and council to reconsider their position on camping near the homeless shelter. The group, which was led by Angel Castillo, a former Ogden City planning commissioner and 2019 candidate for mayor, asked the city to approve a temporary resolution allowing camping near the Lantern House.
According to the group’s proposal, the resolution would be renewed by the council on a weekly basis until the Lantern House has no active COVID-19 cases and an alternate quarantine location with medical staff is arranged for positive COVID-19 clients there. Currently, the Lantern House quarantines positive clients in a separated section of its 33rd Street facility.
Castillo said the city’s concerns surrounding the encampment are legitimate, but temporarily allowing for the outdoor homeless base as the COVID-19 pandemic continues through the winter months is warranted.
“It’s not the final solution for this challenge,” Castillo said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”
Some of the people living in the encampment told the Standard-Examiner in December that they chose to do so because of the freedom they felt. Others said they didn’t like following the rules in Lantern House and others expressed concern about contracting COVID-19 inside the facility. But whatever the reasons, the group that spoke out at Tuesday’s council meeting said the camp should be allowed to live on, at least for the time being.
Castillo and several of the speakers at Tuesday’s council meeting noted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines dealing with homeless camps. According to the CDC, if individual housing options are not available, people who are living unsheltered or in encampments should be allowed to remain where they are. The CDC says clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers, increasing the potential for infectious disease spread.
“Leaving our unsheltered citizens the choice between going into a crowded shelter or having to be out somewhere else, not by resources and in the freezing a cold, is ... not a great decision for them,” said Ogden resident Kevin Lundell.
But Johnson countered by saying there are over 200 beds available at the homeless shelter. The CDC also includes some nuance in its encampment guideline, saying that sleeping outdoors often “does not provide protection from the environment, adequate access to hygiene and sanitation facilities, or connection to services and healthcare.” The CDC says the “balance of risks should be considered for each individual experiencing unsheltered homelessness.”
Castillo said the reason so many beds are available is because “people fear for their lives” amid the pandemic.
Thus far, neither the city administration nor the city council has made a commitment on the group’s proposal. Council members discussed possibly holding a future work session dedicated to the issue but have not made any concrete plans yet. Johnson said he took notes as citizens addressed the council Tuesday and said the city administration will consider what was said.
“Maybe there is more to this dialogue, maybe there are more things we need to consider,” Johnson said. “But there are costs involved with whatever we do. ... We’ll try and digest what we’ve heard.”