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Homeless Utahns upset after health department uses tractor to clear camp in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY -- Hundreds of people on social media are expressing shock after a new video surfaced on Facebook that shows what some are calling an inhumane sight in the Rio Grande area of Salt Lake City.

The video, posted May 19, shows heavy machinery cleaning out loads of homeless people’s belongings on 500 West near 300 South while people stand by, upset.

Some are heard cursing in the video, and criticizing police.

The Salt Lake County Health Department said Sunday they were conducting a cleanup of the area, which is frequented by homeless campers, and that they used a yellow tractor from the public works and streets department for help.

Salt Lake City Police said they accompanied the health department to provide support during the operation.

The person who posted the video wrote that the video was filmed two weeks prior to the Facebook post. On Sunday, a man who goes by K.C. said he remembered that day well.

“It ripped our heart out,” he said. “We don't have much.”

K.C. said the evening before the cleanup, he saw signs posted along 500 West warning of the cleanup. He said it told people to gather their things by 9 a.m.

“We didn't have time to get our stuff, so everything we own got thrown away,” he said.

He and others on the street said it isn’t right how the health department and the city are handling the camping situation.

“They don't have to take our home away from us like that, just rip it out from underneath us,” he said.

“They give us clothes, and food; shoes and shelter. And then they come and take it away from us,” Jeffrey Israel said.

Darrell Charles said there should be a designated area where people can camp.

“This is the only place to go,” Charles said. “There's nowhere else to go.”

But the health department said camping for an extended period of time isn’t allowed, and it creates a public health issue.

“It's really filthy,” said Wade Slaughter, part of the Salt Lake City Clean Team.

His job is to walk around and pick up trash and garbage.

“There's a lot of toilet paper, there's a lot of pee, there's a lot of feces,” he said.

On top of that, he said he sees drugs, used needles and blood.

While Fox 13 was filming on 500 West Sunday afternoon, our cameras captured people shooting up drugs out in the open.

Slaughter said he sees why the city and health department cleans up this way, and he said they’re being fair.

“The public can't look at it in a way where they're doing something wrong to us, because they're doing what's right,” he said. “You don't have to stay out here in a tent.”

The health department said they always make sure there’s room at the shelter before they conduct a cleanup, and they talk with homeless residents about the resources available to them.

They said they give notice of cleanups by posting warning signs 24 hours in advance, and they give everyone time to collect their belongings before the tractor comes in and clears everything out.