Thanks to a new grant, Sara Melnicoff’s Parkway Partners program for the homeless is starting up again. Every week Melnicoff will organize a meet-up along Mill Creek Parkway, where she will pay homeless individuals a “little bit of money” to help pick up trash and recycling along the parkway.
The original Parkway Partners program started in 2008. The project is organized through Moab Solutions, a nonprofit that Melnicoff founded.
“The idea of that was to get to know the people, find out how they ended up there, how can we help them move on if they wanted to, how could we help them,” Melnicoff said. “So that project was very successful and it kind of ended when everybody was off the parkway.”
After homeless individuals have participated in the project and Melnicoff has gotten to know them, she plans to work on finding job training opportunities that suit each willing individual.
In the meantime, Melnicoff still patrols the parkway cleaning up the area and interacting with the homeless community.
“I got the idea for asking [the] Synergy [Company] for money to restart that project but have it evolve to meet the current situation. Right now the most hardcore alcoholics are out there and people with mental health issues. More challenging to get to, more challenging to deal with but I think over time it could be successful for some of them,” Melnicoff said.
She was successful in her grant application and the Synergy Company gave her $2,000 to share between two projects: the Parkway Partners program and the Emergency Needs Fund, a fund that operates similarly to Salvation Army community needs funds.
Some things have changed since the first iteration of Parkway Partners. For one, the city passed an ordinance making it illegal to camp within city limits.
“I went and spoke out against that at the council meeting because I felt that it was specifically aimed at the homeless. If you don’t give someone an option, where are they supposed to go?,” Melnicoff asked. “ … A lot of people go to the library and when the library closes especially in the winter, they go to the McDonald’s back room and then they’re just out there in the cold. Or they go to the laundromat and they get chased out. It’s not good for anybody. So we’re hoping, although the housing situation is much trickier now than it was back then, that there could be some kind of answer whether it’s a lot of the guys get social security payments and we can find a place where they could all stay together with some supervision to keep it from getting crazy ... we don’t know. We’d like to ask the community if they have any ideas of solutions.”
The Moab Police Department has accordingly been stepping up enforcement of camping violations in the city. When camps are found, the police disband them. Sometimes, Melnicoff said, the police call her and she is able to salvage belongings and recycling from the camps, which would otherwise be thrown in the trash. She then attempts to reunite belongings with their owners.
Mike Badger, the owner of the Gonzo Inn, said that the impact of the combination of Melnicoff’s work and Police Chief Jim Winder’s enforcement strategy means that his business has fewer problems with homeless people than used to be the case.
“Sara does a great job, not only for the parkway but all over town. She’s a very compassionate, caring woman ... we’ve had occasional problems with the homeless but since Jim Winder has been here, for us it’s a non-issue. I met him the first or second day he was on the job. He came down here immediately and walked all the parkway and everything else and said, we’ll take care of this and he has,” Badger said. “You’ve got that big open space behind us... before Winder there were some camps back there. I think he’s taken all those apart … [Melnicoff] is on top of it and so is [Winder].”
Melnicoff said she is not the only one in the community trying to help.
“The community wants to help people. They saw [one individual] on this mattress in a parking lot and they were like, can I get you food? Can I get you this thing to cook with? … Nice instinct but we need to take it another step to a more permanent solution. That guy would be tricky because of his extreme mental health and maybe PTSD issues,” Melnicoff said.
Melnicoff said that anyone with ideas or who is interested in volunteering with the project can contact her through the Moab Solutions website at http://www.moab-solutions.org. The page also contains more information about her work with the homeless.