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Matthew Jelalian: Provo tunnel accounts make light of serious situation

September 16, 2018

Matthew Jelalian poses for a portrait in the Daily Herald studio on Friday, March 6, 2015. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

If you’ve walked around downtown Provo, you’ve noticed that we have a bit of a homeless problem here. There’s always panhandlers downtown begging you to put a couple of quarters in their cup.

They’ve been around Provo a bit longer than I have, so don’t blame it on Detroit.

Back in 2013, the city unanimously passed a new panhandling ordinance. The ordinance made it illegal to give a homeless person money out of a car window unless the vehicle was parked.

According to then-Mayor, John Curtis, the ordinance was an attempt to make Provo’s roads safer. Nonetheless, the poor still stand there and ask for money on Center Street. I see them every time I drive down that road.

It’s a shame. I’m sure if the homeless people counted up their change, they could scrounge up enough money to buy train tickets. And then they could go be homeless elsewhere.

They could stop our homeless problem by themselves.

But nonetheless, they persist in their homelessness like a token Provo liberal with a Hillary 2016 bumper sticker. The homeless keep on being poor.

The Utah County Commission has continued the fight to make the poor be poor elsewhere by passing a camping ban.

You see, because homeless people, by definition, do not own homes. This forces many of homeless people to camp out in the canyons. They leave garbage, human waste and drug paraphernalia in their wake.

You know, because they’re homeless. How are they supposed to get those orange bottles non-homeless people store their drugs? Let alone a functioning toilet or garbage pickup service?

According to the Daily Herald’s Katie England, the commissioners unanimously passed the new ordinance in June of this year. The ordinance bans camping on county property.

“It enhances our ability and our efforts to deal with some of the issues we have addressed with you in prior conversations,” Utah County Chief Deputy Darin Durfey said, as reported by England. “So from our perspective, it’s a good thing, it’s a step in the right direction. It gives us additional tools to be able to do our job.”

This latest ordinance just put a bee in someone’s bonnet. And that bee is causing more chaos in Provo’s online world than it could have at girls’ camp.

You see, someone made a Twitter account about a month ago called the “Provo City Dept of Tunnels.” That Twitter account proposed a new ordinance to send Provo’s homeless population into the city’s network of underground tunnels. You know, to live there and not bother us.

Some people thought the Provo City Department of Tunnels was an official city account. This forced some city officials to field citizens’ questions about the tunnel ordinance.

So, acting reasonably, Provo city filed a complaint with Twitter and got the account shut down.

The city responded to the incident on Provo City Government’s various social media accounts.

The city explained how this Twitter account, dedicated to putting homeless people in Provo’s underground tunnels, which “looked very much like an actual city department,” caused problems for elected officials and city employees.

“We do not have a problem with parody accounts,” wrote Provo City on Facebook, “We support the First Amendment rights of everyone — even those who parody us. The problem is mimicking a city department, using our logo, and not identifying that the account is a parody. Twitter’s terms of use agreement states the exact same thing.”

At some point, while Provo City Dept of Tunnels was still operating, a second account called the “Provo Tribune Tunnel Investigation” sprang up to “dig deep” into the story. That account was shut down too.

As of writing this column, a third Twitter account has sprung up called the “Fake Provo City Government.” Its Twitter bio says, “This is a PARODY account for the city of Provo, UT government. Fake news, city humor, and blatant sarcasm.”

Now we’re down two satirical Twitter accounts in an obscure corner of the internet, but we still have one left. We also have homeless people milling around our town still like they couldn’t just get jobs and stop being homeless today if they wanted to. I wanted to bring everyone’s attention to this ongoing story for one, simple reason.

It sucks being homeless. At least, I assume it does. I’ve never actually been homeless. I mean, I’ve slept in a car a couple of times, and I’ve face eviction once, but I’ve always had a bed to go back to.

But what’s worse than being homeless is being around the homeless. They don’t own showers, beds or electric toothbrushes. They’re always asking for money but they don’t take cards or Venmo. It’s a real inconvenience.

It’d be better if we took a page from Draper’s book and sent the homeless down to Santaquin. That way, they could get jobs picking apples for the cider I plan on buying in a month or so.

The fact that someone would use humor and satire to encourage Provo officials to care for our poor, instead of making them go be poor elsewhere, really takes the flavor out of my Sodalicious.

Humor is no laughing matter, and I’m glad those accounts are gone. Now, if only we could get a real tunnel ordinance going. I think we’d all really dig that.

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