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SALT LAKE CITY — The Road Home's downtown homeless shelter is slated to shut down next summer after years of struggles, and yet the agency will still have a role to play in the state's new homeless system.
Despite a recent state audit showing widespread drug use and safety concerns in the Road Home's shelters, the Road Home was selected to operate the largest homeless resource center — the 300-bed men's shelter sited in South Salt Lake at 3380 S. 1000 West, leaders announced Thursday.
"The Road Home has been operating the largest shelter in the West Coast, really, for many, many years," said Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, the nonprofit that will own the future homeless centers.
Cochrane said Shelter the Homeless' board of directors was comfortable selecting the Road Home because the agency has a "long tenure" of expertise and resources, and "knows how to operate a shelter facility."
Cochrane and Harris Simmons, board president of Shelter the Homeless, announced Thursday that the nonprofit's board voted Wednesday night to select the Road Home, along with two other agencies that are no strangers to Utah's homeless system.
The board also selected Catholic Community Services of Utah to operate the 200-bed men and women's resource center located at 275 Paramount Ave. in Salt Lake City, and Volunteers of America-Utah to operate the 200-bed women's resource center at 131 E. 700 South in Salt Lake City.
The contracts for the three providers were still being finalized, but it's estimated each resource centers' operating costs will be between $2.3 million and $2.6 million per year, Cochrane said. What each provider will be paid in each contract will be worked out over the next several weeks, he said.
“Selecting the operators is a critical next step in a series of systemwide changes to the homeless services delivery system,” Simmons said. “With the operators selected, we are ready to move forward working with the state, county and community partners in planning the transition.”
The Shelter the Homeless leaders and officials from the homeless agencies made Thursday's announcement in a news conference in front of the busy construction site of the future women's center.
With steel and exterior walls in place, the new building was starting to take shape after years of controversy as city and county officials worked despite public outcry to site the three homeless centers.
Cochrane credited Road Home officials with working with the state and Shelter the Homeless to tackle issues flagged in the audit, including new metal detectors, increased security and new procedures to prevent drug use and other safety concerns within the Road Home's shelters both downtown and the family shelter in Midvale.
"All of those have been implemented and will continue to be monitored closely," Cochrane said, especially as the state takes ownership of the downtown facility after Shelter the Homeless agreed to sell the property to the state in September.
"(The state) will take ownership in the next few weeks, and we'll continue to work with each other until we open the new facilities in June of next year," Cochrane said.
The Road Home will also continue to operate the family shelter in Midvale as a part of the new homeless system.
Matt Minkevitch, executive director of the Road Home, said he's confident the Road Home has addressed concerns outlined in the state audit and will manage the 300-bed men's shelter well.
For years, the Road Home was the only agency providing shelter to people in need throughout Utah — and that put a strain on the Road Home's abilities, Minkevitch said.
"What we saw in the old model was one provider with a facility that was taking on as many people as we possibly could," he said. "And that presented a number of challenges. And overlaying that were other societal issues regarding mental health and health issues of the people turning to us.
"But the sheer numbers of people turning to one location created security and safety issues with which we were very concerned," Minkevitch added. "The new model provides us greater dispersion, distribution and a better environmental advantage for each person turning to shelter."
Though the Road Home's downtown shelter has been located nearby homeless medical services at the downtown 4th Street Clinic, Minkevitch said the distance of the South Salt Lake site won't hamper services. The 4th Street Clinic will be operating out of a mobile clinic to bring medical care to the homeless centers.
"The new system is designed in such a way that they'll be bringing people to people who are staying in shelter," he said.
Kathy Bray, Volunteers of America-Utah's president and CEO, called it an "honor" for her nonprofit to be selected to operate the women's shelter to "continue supporting people experiencing homelessness, addiction and mental illness along the Wasatch Front."
"We will provide a bridge to self-reliance and health for vulnerable women exiting homelessness," Bray said.
Volunteers of America-Utah already operates several homeless facilities in the Salt Lake area, including a youth resource center, a young women's transitional home and a young men's transitional home. The agency also manages detox centers and substance abuse and mental health treatment programs.
As for the operator of the future mixed gender homeless resource center, Catholic Community Services' homeless service director Matt Melville also said his nonprofit was "honored" to be selected.
"We look forward to working on new solutions to help those experiencing homelessness reach self-sufficiency, including access to housing and job training," Melville said. "(We) will continue to serve all those most in need in our community regardless of their circumstance."
Catholic Community Services has been a neighbor to the Road Home's downtown shelter, where it currently operates the St. Vincent De Paul Dining Hall soup kitchen and the Weigand Homeless Resource Center, a day shelter where the homeless can seek job referrals, have access to a computer lab, shower, do laundry and find other services.
Catholic Community Services also manages immigration and refugee programs within Utah.
Cochrane said a total of five applicants applied for Shelter the Homeless' request for bids. He declined to name the other two applicants, saying the decision was only recently made and he hadn't had a chance to converse with the other applicants about the decision before Thursday's announcement.
Shelter the Homeless continues to race to meet the June 30, 2019, deadline mandated by the Utah Legislature to construct, program and open the three new homeless centers and shut down the downtown homeless shelter.
A little over seven months remains to finish construction.
Cochrane acknowledged there's "a lot of work" to do between now and next summer.
"One of the biggest challenges will be making sure we have the right hired qualified staff," he said. "That will be a challenge."
Shelter the Homeless also continues to seek donations to fund the homeless resource centers. As of Thursday, the nonprofit had raised more than $5.6 million out of its $10 million goal, according to its website.
The total one-time cost of the homeless centers is projected to be about $52 million, including $40 million for construction, Shelter the Homeless officials have said. But that doesn't include costs for other efforts including housing stock and ongoing operating costs for services and other programs.
The Utah Legislature appropriated $20 million to fund construction. Prominent Utah businesswoman Gail Miller pledged to match dollar-for-dollar every donation up to $10 million to help fund the centers. Donations have also included $4 million from businessman Pat King for the women's shelter and $10 million from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for transitional housing.