Spy Hop moving out of Rio Grande neighborhood, says it’s not safe for children

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

SALT LAKE CITY -- After eight years in the Rio Grande neighborhood, Spy Hop Productions is packing up and moving out.

The situation outside the downtown homeless shelters has deteriorated so much, it's created danger for young children who participate in the non-profit group's digital media classes.

"We get to a point where it's just too dangerous to have young people down here and parents are starting to pull their children out of the classes," Spy Hop Program Director Matt Mateus told FOX 13. "We're having children say it's too scary to come down to. They're seeing things they shouldn't be seeing. They're seeing things nobody should see. There's a lot of crime down here. There's a lot of drug use. There's a lot of mental illness. It's just not conducive to having young people down here for our programming."

Salt Lake City police officers on patrol in the Rio Grande neighborhood. (Image by Doug Eldredge, FOX 13 News)

Salt Lake City police officers on patrol in the Rio Grande neighborhood. (Image by Doug Eldredge, FOX 13 News)

Advocates for the homeless have said the situation in the neighborhood just south of the Gateway mall is the worst it's been in decades with rampant crime, drug use and mental illness plaguing the streets. 

"It's unfortunate, but I think we all understand the decision they're making," said David Litvack, the deputy chief of staff for the Salt Lake City mayor's office.

Spy Hop Productions has begun moving out of the Rio Grande neighborhood. (Image by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Spy Hop Productions has begun moving out of the Rio Grande neighborhood. (Image by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski helped secure $27 million in new funding for homeless services across the state, and has convened a commission to look at sites for smaller shelters scattered around. New sites could be selected by this fall.

In the short term, Litvack said more police officers have been assigned to patrol Rio Grande, and more social services have been put in the area to deal with substance abuse and mental health issues. Homeless advocates have pointed out that a large part of the problems in the Rio Grande neighborhood do not involve the people actually staying at the shelters, but a criminal element that preys upon them.

A Salt lake City worker picks up a discarded needle outside Spy Hop's offices in the Rio Grande neighborhood. (Image by Doug Eldredge, FOX 13 News)

A Salt lake City worker picks up a discarded needle outside Spy Hop's offices in the Rio Grande neighborhood. (Image by Doug Eldredge, FOX 13 News)

"It highlights the need for a new direction with smaller resource centers scattered across the city, across the county, across the state where you don't have the concentration of a population and you make it harder for the criminal element to infuse themselves and take advantage of those individuals and families experience homelessness," Litvack said.

Mateus said Spy Hop has already moved its youth classes out of its Rio Grande building to other places in the city. By August 1, it will move into new studios near 700 South and West Temple. Spy Hop has already started raising money to build new studios to provide opportunities for children in digital media.

A look at the Rio Grande neighborhood from inside Spy Hop Productions' offices. (Image by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

A look at the Rio Grande neighborhood from inside Spy Hop Productions' offices. (Image by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Mateus called it "bittersweet" that Spy Hop was leaving. He said he hoped the Rio Grande neighborhood would become a better place again.

"It's a perfect storm right now. I think there is a lot going on. It's not just a government thing. It's not just the city," he said. "We don't have enough resources for people experiencing homelessness. We don't have resources for people experiencing substance abuse or mental illness. We need resources."