If you venture downtown this summer you’ll see folks in yellow long sleeve shirts walking in pairs, like two purposeful bumblebees, sans the black stripes. The shirts have a logo on them and the words ASK ME! These are your new ‘downtown ambassadors’, paid for by the Downtown Alliance, Salt Lake City Corp and Visit Salt Lake. You may have grown up with a dad or grandpa who was a member of the Chamber of Commerce years ago, who would go out monthly in a pure white wool coat and glad hand people and welcome them to town and to meetings. These guys were not paid, whereas the new ambassadors are getting a wage. This is different.
These smiley people have a three-fold purpose: “1) answer questions from visitors as to where to go, what to see, and ask them where they are visiting from; 2) provide another layer of safety and security in busier parts of downtown; and 3) act as the eyes and ears for the homeless population, to ensure these community members are aware of service providers, and how and where to take advantage of hot meals or a bed, should they choose”. Mind you, they aren’t cops, but in a way they are acting like cops by watching out for crime, and particularly watching the homeless who camp and/or panhandle in regular locations downtown. They don’t have guns or tasers, just phones to call 911 or service providers.
The need for this extra layer of eyeballs on the street is due mostly due to a cry of local businesses who have found that the Salt Lake City popo are too damned busy busting drug dealers around the shelter than they are available to roust panhandlers from the front of Temple Square or City Creek 20 times a day. These yellow ambassadors will interface with the vagrants, homeless and panhandlers and get to know them. They won’t be afraid to sit down next to them and get the 411 on why they are there, and offer them services to hopefully help to get them out of there to shelter and get services.
The program is based on a similar program that the Chicago Illinois Alliance created for the Chi-town downtown area. They contracted with a private employer (StreetsPlus) to walk their downtown areas and get cozy with the people who work downtown, visit downtown and live downtown. This company has been cleaning the streets of New York City for more than 25 years, too and provides clean, safe and hospitality services to 60 downtown areas around the United States. By this summer you may see up to a dozen of them in the core blocks of downtown, around our convention center, mall and visitor sites. They get rave reviews for their work, so let’s give them a chance in our Capitol City for a year and measure the results.