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SALT LAKE CITY — About 150 people offered their opinions Wednesday night regarding the future of homeless service providers in the city.
The open house, hosted by the city's Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission, brought together people currently experiencing homelessness, formerly homeless people, service providers, government officials, community leaders and other interested residents.
They offered their respective points of view by recording brief videos and submitting comments online.
They also indicated their concerns, preferences and opinions by placing brightly colored stickers on poster boards that posed questions such as top reasons to co-locate facilities or to separate them.
"What you see on the boards, and what we're asking the public to do, is indicate their preference for certain items as their input, things like if they were to envision an ideal shelter situation, what would that look like," said Palmer DePaulis, co-chairman of the commission and a former mayor of Salt Lake City.
Mary Hogle-Jahn, who was formerly homeless and leads Fourth Street Clinic's consumer advisory board, said she believes the existing facilities could be improved but should be left in place.
There is a need, however, for a different type of facility elsewhere in city that could shelter formerly homeless people who have been evicted from permanent supporting housing because of criminal activity, substance abuse or other violations of their housing agreements.
"Instead of taking all this money and the millions of dollars it's going to take just to move Fourth Street Clinic alone, put it into another facility with mental health, with a Workforce Services team, with a security team and teach them how to be sober," Hogle-Jahn said.
Glenn Bailey, executive director of Crossroads Urban Center, which advocates for people living in poverty and is a direct-service provider, said he is unsure that the commission has clearly identified the problem that is being addressed.
"Some people think the problem is we don't have enough affordable housing or permanent supportive housing to get people out of homelessness quicker. Some people think it's just a problem of the shelter being in the wrong neighborhood. If we can't agree on the problem I'm not sure how we arrive at the solution. That's my major concern," he said.
While he has attended some commission meetings, Bailey said he's "not quite sure I'm totally comfortable with the nature of the commission that's been formed." For instance, it has no representatives from the city's west side while the Pioneer Park Coaltion seems "too well represented," he said.
"I know they're probably doing their best. I've been to a couple of their meetings but I just feel like without a clear problem to solve, a lot of people are working their own agendas and trying to get the process to come out to their benefit."
The 28-member commission has been meeting since January, both as a large group and in small working groups, DePaulis said. Some commission members have traveled to other cities to learn about their approaches to homeless services, which include campuses that provide a wide array of services at a single location to others that provide them on a scattered basis.
What you see on the boards, and what we're asking the public to do, is indicate their preference for certain items as their input, things like if they were to envision an ideal shelter situation, what would that look like.
–Palmer DePaulis, former mayor of Salt Lake City
"We're trying to look at best practices. If we can find things that will work — it may not be the whole program, but if there are parts of it we really like and we can bring it here and reproduce it here and it will work for us, we want to do those best practices," DePaulis said.
The commission, co-chaired by Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, has been asked to make recommendations with respect to homeless services providers in Salt Lake City. They include Catholic Community Services of Utah's dining hall and homeless resource center, Fourth Street Clinic, the Road Home, Volunteers of America - Utah, Rescue Mission and the state Department of Workforce Services.
The group has asked to answer three questions:
• Should the service providers remain where they are, as they are?
• Should the service providers remain in their present location but be improved to mitigate persistent and vexing problems experienced by homeless individuals, residents, business owners and the community?
• Should the sites for these services be relocated?
The commission is expected to deliver its recommendations to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, the Salt Lake City Council and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams later this year.
As the city commission goes about its charge, a separate group in Salt Lake County is studying how to improve the delivery of homeless services countywide.
The city's commission will likely need an entire year to complete its work, DePaulis said.
"We're going to need all of that time because there will be a lot scrutiny as to how we're doing the process, how we're putting it together and whether people feel it's transparent enough. That's one of the reasons for tonight, too."