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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

State committee approves 3 Salt Lake County homeless site recommendations

By Katie McKellar  |  Posted Apr 10th, 2017 @ 10:25pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Despite a final plea from city leaders and residents, state officials Monday finalized the Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake site recommendations for three new homeless resource centers meant to revamp Utah's homeless services.

The vote from the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee approved Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdam's proposal for an up-to-300-bed homeless facility at 3380 S. 1000 West in South Salt Lake, as well as Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski's proposal to build two 200-bed facilities at 275 High Ave. and 131 E. 700 South.

The vote came after South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood made a last-ditch effort to persuade state leaders to reject McAdams' recommendation.

"This is our last plea to make sure you understand the irreversible impacts this shelter will have," Wood said. "As the smallest city in the county, we are already overburdened with services our residents are forced to subsidize."

The city of 24,000 hosts an array of tax-exempt social services, including two county jails, an 84-bed homeless facility called Grace Mary Manor, and two juvenile detention centers. South Salt Lake's tax base is 34 percent tax-exempt.

"We are compassionate and understand there is a need to help the homeless," said South Salt Lake resident Cindy Jones, who lives on 1000 West. "We are not saying 'Not in our backyard,' but rather 'Our backyard is full.'"

Jones pleaded with the committee to reject McAdams' recommendation and choose a site that doesn't "destroy" the Jordan River Parkway, South Salt Lake's last swath of agricultural land, and a neighborhood that's home to six families who have lived on the street for decades — properties McAdams has said the county may buy from willing sellers for facility accommodations like parking, storage units or a grocery area.

"How is it right to decide that you are going to uproot people who have lived in that area — some for over 60 years?" Jones said.

There was no debate prior to the near-unanimous vote, but after votes were cast, committee member Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini — the lone dissenting voice — sympathized with South Salt Lake. As mayor to a city that hosts a family homeless shelter, Seghini said she's all-too-familiar with the challenges homeless facilities bring.

"You have no idea the problems that will come," Seghini warned South Salt Lake, urging city leaders to stay in "constant contact" with state and county leaders for assistance.

Promises

"I know you might feel my words ring hollow," Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the committee's chairman, told residents of South Salt Lake. "But I want to promise you, you have my support and the support of (McAdams) to make sure we follow through on (our promises)."

Paired with the committee's approval was also a vote supporting conditions in McAdams' proposal that construction won't begin at the South Salt Like site unless or until legislation is passed to provide financial support to fund the operations of the facility and offset its impacts in the community.

McAdams also pledged to work with the Salt Lake County Council to spur investment in economic development, parks, roads and the Jordan River Parkway in South Salt Lake to help grow the city's tax base.

"This wasn't an easy decision," McAdams said in an interview. "There will be people who will be negatively impacted by this decision. And that weighs heavy on me. But I also know that we can do better to help people in crisis to get back on their feet."

While acknowledging South Salt Lake's resentment of the decision, Cox applauded residents for protesting the site recommendation in an honorable way.

"It's very clear that no city wanted this resource center. That's very obvious," he said. "But I want to commend South Salt Lake. You opposed it the right way. I want to commend you for your humanity, for your kindness. You are not just a light to the rest of the state, but to our country as well."

Cox's comments come after site proposals in Draper were protested during a raucous open house hosted by Salt Lake County, where more than 700 residents decried Mayor Troy Walker's decision to volunteer two sites by screaming, booing and threatening lawsuits.

"While maybe not everyone has opposed this the right way," Cox said, "we want you to know we are incredibly grateful for your graciousness and your willingness to work together with us."

As Cox spoke, South Salt Lake resident Rachel Spencer shook her head from her seat in the audience.

"It's a tragedy," she said after the vote. "It isn't fair. It's disgusting. (The committee) kept saying they cared. That's not true. They didn't take into account anything we said."

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Next steps

A tired and defeated Wood said in an interview after the meeting that the committee's stamp of approval was not surprising.

Over the past week, city leaders and residents had sent requests to committee members to reject the site, but the feedback they were getting back indicated there was little interest in deviating from McAdams' pick.

Last month, Wood had vowed to use all resources possible to fight the proposal — declaring the shelter would be a "lethal blow" to South Salt Lake — but Wednesday Wood saw no other avenues of resistance.

Thanks to HB441 — the bill that provided $10 million in funding for the shelters and also allowed state leaders and the county mayor to make a site selection — doesn't offer any legal means for a city to reject a site.

Now, Wood said, South Salt Lake leaders must switch gears and focus their attention on ensuring the facility will have the least impact possible.

"I've committed (to residents) that we would do everything it took to ensure that we find out how to mitigate and keep our neighborhoods safe while also not raising property taxes to subsidize its use," she said.

Wood said she and other city officials will be working closely with the county, the state and Shelter the Homeless Inc., the board that will be overseeing the three new facilities.

Biskupski, a member of the committee, was not present at the meeting because she was on a plane coming back from a long-planned family vacation, her spokesman said, but city officials said the vote was an important step toward overhauling a troubled homeless system Salt Lake City has carried on its own for too long.

"Today was another step toward our goal of changing the way services are delivered and compassionately moving people from homelessness to housing," Biskupski's spokesman, Matthew Rojas, said. "Salt Lake City is focused on getting our sites designed and built in a manner conducive to the surrounding areas and ensuring we are creating appropriate housing opportunities to make our shared goals possible."

As that process moves forward, more difficult decisions loom.

In the coming months, McAdams said determinations will be made on what populations each facility will serve. He said he envisions a "low-need" population at the South Salt Lake site because of its distance from services — such as people who are employed or actively seeking employment — but the decision hasn't been made.

It's also not yet known yet where the most "high-need" population will be sheltered.

"There are people who don't want help and don't want to help themselves," McAdams acknowledged. "And that population has to fit somewhere."

McAdams said homeless leaders have had conversations about allowing them to shelter at St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall in Salt Lake City, but that's yet to be determined.

Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City will also move forward on architectural design, and the Shelter the Homeless board will draft an operating proposal, for which the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee will weigh before allocating the full $20 million for construction.

Construction for the facilities are mandated by state law to be finished by June 30, 2019 — the hard closing date for the troubled, 1,100-bed Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande district.

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