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SALT LAKE CITY — The clock is ticking for Salt Lake County to recommend a site for a third homeless resource center, but pushback from South Salt Lake and West Valley City remains fierce.
Ten days remain before a county committee is slated on March 28 to make a site recommendation to the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee, due March 30.
Saturday marked the second open house at the Utah Capitol to take public input on the five potential sites for the new center — two in South Salt Lake and three in West Valley City.
Throughout the duration of the gathering, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams was again surrounded by concerned and at times furious residents, urging him to scrap all five of the options.
Leaders from both cities argue their communities already do their fair share of affordable housing or homeless services, and that a new up-to-300-bed facility would drain and strain their already stretched police and fire departments.
A call to delay decision
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, was among those who confronted McAdams — urging the mayor to abandon the March 30 deadline, even though it was included in HB441, the bill that would provide $10 million in state funding to help build the three homeless resource centers.
"I don't believe you're going to find a solution in 10 days," Thatcher told McAdams. "There is no way on Earth you're going to get community support in 10 days."
McAdams told Thatcher the March 30 deadline was required by state leaders — including Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser and House Speaker Greg Hughes — and missing that deadline would "jeopardize" that state funding.
"That was the expectation set by the Legislature with a near-unanimous vote," McAdams said. "I'm going to work to meet the deadlines the Legislature has worked to impose on us."
In an interview later, Thatcher said he doesn't believe the state funding will go anywhere. If McAdams is "genuinely listening," he said, "the only responsible thing to do is to let the 30th come and go, not choose a location in such a fast and grossly irresponsible manner."
But McAdams said the county is in the midst of a "robust" public process, pointing out there are two more opportunities for input ahead — including another open house in West Valley at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 W. 3100 South, 6 p.m. Tuesday, and a site evaluation committee meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Utah Capitol in Senate Building Room 210.
"I'm here listening. We do care," McAdams said. "We want to understand the concerns that people have about the sites. That will help us make a well-informed decision. We want to make the best decision possible. No site's going to be perfect, but we need to narrow it down to one by March 30."
Thatcher also criticized the county's site options, calling the five sites west-side heavy.
"To me, it's kind of like (the county) threw darts," he said. "Or, I'm sorry, if they had thrown darts, maybe some might have landed east of Main Street."
No sites on the east side
Brian Fabbi, 33, said he and his wife, Shelley, bought their first home in West Valley eight months ago, near Redwood and 3100 South, by the potential site by the Oxbow Jail in South Salt Lake.
Fabbi said he's worried about all the sites, wondering why more south- or east-side communities weren't proposed as potential locations.
"It just feels like South Salt Lake and West Valley are the whipping boys," he said. "(TRAX's) blue line goes all the way down to Draper. That should open up a ton of possibilities. It seems very weird that (the sites) have to be in the poorer areas, the areas that have a disproportionate number of social services we already provide."
McAdams said site options become more limited the farther south because criteria for a new homeless resource center — including a 1.2-acre size and proximity to transit to create access to Salt Lake City's downtown homeless services — must be balanced with an affordable cost.
"We're still looking," he noted, later adding that "a couple" additional sites may be brought forth within a "few days" for consideration, if they turn out to be feasible options.
Fabbi asked McAdams what will be done to ensure the problems surrounding the Road Home downtown aren't just transferred to a different location.
"We've been studying this for 2 ½ years now, and that's the exact question we've been asking ourselves," McAdams told Fabbi.
The mayor urged people to attend an open house to understand the full scope of the work the county's Homeless Steering Committee has done over the past two years — work to overhaul the county and state's homeless services model by breaking up the troubled, 1,100-bed shelter in downtown Salt Lake City into different populations and putting more emphasis on prevention and diversion services than an "emergency room" setting of a shelter.
When West Valley resident Jacob Fitisemanu confronted McAdams — his toddler daughter crying in his arms — he told the mayor he found it "hard to believe after 2 1/2 years these are the only five sites" that have been identified to help disperse the burden.
"These sites are pretty much all adjacent," Fitisemanu said. "It doesn't make sense to me if they've spent that time to look at all the options. There are 24 municipalities in Salt Lake County and yet they stuck them all in this corner of these two cities."
McAdams told Fitisemanu that homeless leaders weren't looking for new sites outside of Salt Lake City until the "change of course" last month when plans to build four 150-bed shelters in Salt Lake City changed just weeks before the end of the 2017 Utah Legislature.
South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood and West Valley Mayor Ron Bigelow were both present at Saturday's open house, criticizing the expedited process and decrying the burden a new homeless center would place on either of their communities.
"We're exhausted as a community," Wood said, wondering if a good solution is reachable by the end of the month, even if McAdams proposes new sites within the next few days.
"The more layers we add to this, the more difficult and rushed this process becomes," she said. "We just need more time."