April 12, 2021

Salt Lake City’s Downtown Ambassadors program expands west

Salt Lake City’s Downtown Ambassadors program expands west
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By Charlotte Fife-Jepperson

North Temple gets support from six new public safety workers

Residents and visitors to Salt Lake City’s west side may notice the presence of workers clad in bright yellow and black coats interacting with people along North Temple.

No, they are not police officers. They are Downtown Ambassadors who watch out for the safety of individuals on the streets, whether they are residents, visitors, merchants, or people experiencing homelessness. They work in partnership with law enforcement and service providers to increase public safety and well-being.

Downtown Ambassadors SLC Operations Manager, Jared Arvanitas, said, “We are the helping hands. That’s why our jackets are so bright, so that people know that they can come to us to get help,” he said.

During the first week on North Temple, Arvanitas said that ambassadors saved two lives by administering Naloxone, referred three individuals to homeless resource centers and partnered with police on six arrests.

These ambassadors are part of a program called StreetPlus that is used in many cities around the country – like New York, San Francisco, L.A., and Chicago – with the goal of “creating cleaner, safer, friendlier cities.”

The Downtown Ambassador SLC program was launched in 2018. According to Dee Brewer, Executive Director of the Downtown Alliance, in 2020, the Downtown Ambassadors performed 6,591 wellness checks, referred 1,448 individuals to shelter and services, responded 2,859 times to merchants who needed assistance and administered 184 doses of naloxone.

Thanks to funding from the city, the Downtown Alliance and money acquired from the state by Rep. Sandra Hollins, as of April 1, six new Downtown Ambassadors are now working along the North Temple corridor, Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

SLC Police Chief Mike Brown said that by partnering with the Downtown Ambassadors, they can make the area safer. “The ambassadors are our ears and eyes. Many times they are able to respond quicker than we can on lower level incidents, like trespassing or ‘man or woman down’ calls.”

Chief Brown said that since January, the SLC Pioneer Police Bike Squad has arrested 86 people on felony charges, seized 10 firearms, recovered nine occupied stolen vehicles, and seized over 2,000 grams of illegal narcotics in the North Temple area.

“The Pioneer Bike Squad and the SLC Gang Squad do a fantastic job down here,” said Chief Brown. They do lots of kind and compassionate outreach service for the homeless. But make no mistake, if you are a predatory criminal, if you’re down here to sell dope in our community, to steal cars, to carry guns, to threaten people, they will find you and they will arrest you.”

The expansion of the Downtown Ambassadors Program “is a significant step,” said District 2 Councilman Andrew Johnston, who has been meeting on the corner of 800 West and North Temple with local neighbors, business owners, and other elected officials on Friday afternoons at 4:00 for about nine months.

“Business owners and residents here for a number of years have worked tirelessly. They have their neighborhood watch and have done cleanups on a regular basis. They have put their heart and soul into their businesses and properties,” said Johnston.

“The River District Business Alliance has been pushing for this expansion for many months,” said David Galvan, Manager of Mestizo Coffeehouse, who offered free coffee or hot chocolate to the six new ambassadors.

At the press conference in her parking lot, Lucy Cárdenas, owner of Red Iguana and Red Iguana 2, said, “I am thrilled to see Ambassadors on North Temple. Every day I see people suffering in this neighborhood… I love the River District…but I see things that are concerning, that break my heart. And I’m not going anywhere. I live here. I want to stay here. My business is here. We employ 145 people. And we serve over 1,000 people a day, who come to this neighborhood and want to know what they can do, what can they see while they wait for a table. I want to offer them something special, something great, something very Salt Lake. I am overjoyed that you [ambassadors] are here. It’s inspiring, and it’s making me more determined than ever to take care of my neighborhood, my people and my customers.”

Businesses in the North Temple area can call 801-541-0434 to request assistance from the Downtown Ambassadors.

For more info about the SLC Downtown Ambassadors program, visit the Downtown Alliance website.

Published in Spring 2021