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South Salt Lake Journal

Homeless Resource Center officers are busy throughout the city

May 05, 2020 11:57AM ● By Bill Hardesty

South Salt Lake Police Officer Chad Leetham checks through an abandoned bag along the Jordan River Trail. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

As part of the agreement to build the men’s Homeless Resource Center (HRC) in South Salt Lake was the addition of 12 police officers focused on homelessness issues. 

Officer Chad Leetham is one of those HRC officers.

While new to this assignment, Leetham joined the SSLPD in 2005 as a patrol officer. Before his current assignment, he was a detective and a resource officer at Granite Park Junior High School.

“It is important to build a rapport with the HRC residents and the community at large,” Leetham said.

His experience as a resource officer pays off as an HRC officer. As he walked through the HRC, he would stop and talk with residents about their life.

“Putting someone in jail is the last action,” Leetham said.

Jordan River Trail

Starting in 2018, working with other city departments, HRC officers started to move back the foliage off the trail. Their goal is to have a clear view from the trail to the river. It is coming along, but there still needs more work. A clear view will prevent individuals from setting up a camp in the undergrowth.

On the day of this reporter’s ride along taken before COVID-19 social distancing, we found an athletic bag on the trail. The three HRC residents standing nearby said they didn’t know whose it was. Leetham carefully looked through for a name but found none. He strapped it to the back of his Police Explorer. However, before we could return to the HRC, he had to respond to a call.

High-service users

The call concerned an individual who was camping behind an abandoned house on 1000 West. Leetham told me this was the third call about him today. He was becoming a high-service user.

The man is a resident of the HRC but reports that he can’t sleep there. So, he keeps finding places around the center to sleep illegally.

When the HRC department was started in 2018, they identified five high-service users and focused on these individuals. Leetham was happy to report that three of them are now in housing and two are elsewhere.

The busiest department

Because the HRC department responds to any transient-related issue in the City, Leetham thinks they are the busiest department. 

On our ride, we checked city parks. At Harmony Park, Leetham found one of the former high-service users. She was enjoying the sun and when she saw Leetham, she quickly gave him a hug. They talked about where she was staying and her upcoming move out of state. Before leaving, she gave him an angel necklace to keep him safe.

“She is one of our success stories,” Leetham commented.

While on the east side of the city, Leetham got a call to return to the HRC to help with a medical issue. Once we arrived the issue was resolved. We then got a call taking us to 2100 South and State Street.

An individual was refusing to leave a 7-Eleven store. Leetham’s friendly, caring approach quickly defused the situation. Both parties felt respected.

“I don’t think since the HRC opened there has been increase in crime. Just an increase in services,” Leetham said.

Final call

Even though Leetham focuses on the HRC, he is also available for other calls. His final call was a dead body under the I-15 “spaghetti bowl,” which brought a large police presence between SSLPD and UTA.

It turned out that it was a transient call because the dead individual was homeless. He had no identification, but because of Leetham’s previous experience, he was able to use the deceased’s unique tattoo for identification, thus changing a John Doe to a person with a name and history. 

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