Police Investigate Death of Homeless Man Turned Back From Shelter

Police Investigate Death of Homeless Man Turned Back From Shelter

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Police in St. George are investigating the death of a homeless man who had been denied help at a shelter.

The body of Milton Rogers, 65, a well-known figure in St. George's homeless community and a nephew of the chairman of the Shivwits Band of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, was found Sunday near a city jogging and biking trail.

The cause of death was pending an autopsy results, but law enforcement officials said he died apparently of accidental or natural causes due to health problems -- not from exposure.

Advocates for the homeless want to know why he had been denied help at Dixie Care and Share and police did not arrest him on Friday after shelter staff reported him for disorderly conduct.

"There is no excuse for the way Rogers was treated," says Georgina Coon, a former board member of the Dixie Care and Share shelter.

Ralph Flanagan, director of the Dixie Care and Share, where Rogers often came for food and a shower, said Rogers showed up drunk at the food pantry on Friday and angrily demanded another canned ham in addition to the one given to him the day before.

Rogers was sent away but then returned, "cussing and causing problems," Flanagan said, adding that Rogers was not looking for a place to sleep and would not have been allowed a bed under the shelter's "zero tolerance policy" for drunkenness.

The staff called police.

"We thought he was going to jail," said Flanagan.

Police Sgt. Albert Gilman said Rogers was not intoxicated when officers responded. He said that because the shelter did not want to press a disorderly conduct charge, the police could not take him to jail.

They sent him away with a warning that if he returned, he would be cited for trespassing.

It is not known what happened between that time and when his body was found by a jogger Christmas morning.

Police Detective Richard Triplett said it appeared Rogers sat down on the edge of a concrete drainage pool then fell backward, landing face-up in a few inches of water.

In Salt Lake City, where nights are much colder than they are in St. George, advocates try to make sure that the homeless either have a place to stay indoors or a warm sleeping bag if they prefer to stay outside, said homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson.

Atkinson said she tries to get those who insist on sleeping outside to not drink the second half of their bottles until they are in their sleeping bags. She said that otherwise, a person who is really drunk might fall asleep and freeze to death.

The Road Home shelter has a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol, but in the winter months it sends inebriated people to overflow shelters. The men sleep on mats in the St. Vincent de Paul dining room and the women sleep in the women's shelter dining room.

On any given night in the winter there will be 40 to 90 inebriated men and about 40 women, said Matt Minkevitch, Road Home director.

"The one thing that can get you out of the shelter system is dangerous behavior," he said. "If you're confrontational, if you pick fights, in the summer you're just asked to leave. We want to keep the shelter as safe as possible."

In the winter, the staff tries to send the person to a different shelter, and if that does not work, they will call the police.

"It's too cold and precarious to just send someone on their way and hope they're OK," Minkevitch says.

He said the police are well trained to deal with the homeless population and can often defuse the situation. If that doesn't work, the staff may let the person sleep in the shelter lobby. "Or the police will take him for the night," he said.

However, Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Paul Jaroscak said it gets harder and harder to book someone for a class C misdemeanor such as disorderly conduct, "because the jail is getting so full of hardened criminals."

Salt Lake City police spokesman Dwayne Baird said, "If they're confrontational and they can't go to jail and the homeless shelter won't take them, then we have to release them."

Salt Lake police no longer do sweeps of homeless camps, and homeless outreach programs try to provide the people residing there with warm sleeping bags, warm clothes and food. In the five-county area of southwestern Utah, the Iron County Care and Share offers similar provisions.

"I don't ever refuse anyone," says outreach case manager Cindy Shrum. "I don't ask what they're going to do with it."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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