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Elaborate homeless camps along Jordan River to shut down, get cleaned up

SALT LAKE CITY - The Salt Lake County Health Department says it plans to clean up an elaborate homeless camp along the Jordan River, made up of a network of several cabins, areas of debris and even an underground bunker.

Residents who live there said they’ve been told they need to move, and now they’re trying to find another place to live.

Logan Blair showed his cabin to Fox 13 on Monday.

“The bed actually used to be up here, like a little loft,” he said, pointing to a shelf that now sits above his bed.

He said he helped two other residents build the cabin more than a year ago. Those residents no longer live there, but Blair said it’s where he calls home.

The small one-room structure includes carpet and laminate flooring, a wood-burning stove, a skylight, power and decorations on the wall.

“We're trying to do our best down here being homeless,” Blair said.

His cabin is one of many buildings along a trail near 3900 S. It’s a neighborhood made by those who don’t have a place to live.

In one area along the river, Blair showed Fox 13 an entire underground bunker he said was built by a man who used to live in it.

He said the area has become its own community.

“I wound up staying, because I felt safe here,” he said.

But, Blair and everyone else is now moving out after the health department announced they’re cleaning the area up.

“It kind of really sucks because I've kind of made this my home,” Blair said. At this point, he said he doesn’t know where he’ll go.

While people may call the cabins home, Nicholas Rupp with the Salt Lake County Health Department said they aren’t allowed to be there.

“You can't live here, you can’t camp here,” Rupp said.

Rupp said the trash and debris that has built up over the years has created an environmental and public health concern, especially because he said it is a sensitive wetland area.

“Plus, the people who are staying here, unfortunately are using the restroom here,” Rupp said. “Sometimes there is drug paraphernalia.”

Authorities have known about this camp and the cabins for as long as seven or eight years, Rupp said, but it’s been a challenge to come in and clean up.

“It's hard to get in here, and have the resources available to dismantle structures that have been built when it’s a protected wetland area,” Rupp said.

Federal protections prevent bringing in any heavy equipment, Rupp explained.  Instead they’ll have to clean up the area by hand.

“We are going to be gathering up as much of the smaller debris as we can,” Rupp said.

The Salt Lake County Health Department, in conjunction with several other agencies including the Department of Corrections, plans to come in to cleanup.   Inmates from the Department of Corrections will do much of the work.

Last week, authorities spent time cleaning up other camps on the Jordan River, south of 3900 south.

Rupp said they likely won’t tear the cabins down yet, but plan to get to them at a later time.  He said they planned to spend a couple days talking with homeless in the area about the clean up, and options for care that the individuals have.

On Monday, the Volunteers of America (VOA), and ONE VOICE Recovery, Inc. spent time at the camps talking with residents about resources.

A VOA representative said they regularly visit the camps in that area to check in on people, and bring them water, food and hygiene items.

Rupp said while many have asked if Operation Rio Grande played a role in any growth of the homeless camps, he said that is not the case.

If anything, Rupp said they have Operation Rio Grande to thank for providing resources for the cleanup efforts.