SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers focused so much on homeless shelter reform and the construction of three new homeless resource centers in Salt Lake County when enacting legislation in recent years, a little-known homeless shelter in eastern Utah was forgotten.
Yes — there's a 27-bed homeless shelter in Vernal, Turning Point Shelter, run by Uintah County.
So Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, is sponsoring a bill to include in legislation that shelter — which, because of its size, currently isn't eligible to apply for state homeless grants.
Vernal's shelter was inadvertently left out of laws written recently to allow homeless shelters to apply for public safety mitigation funds and other grants. Currently, the law requires shelters to have 50 beds or more.
"We don't qualify for any funding, but we would like to take care of our own," Chew said in front of the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee on Wednesday.
House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, jokingly grilled Chew about his bill before expressing his support.
"The statute says you have a bunch of money here but you can only go after any of that money if you have a 50-bed shelter," Gibson said. "But in the meantime, you're keeping the people that are there … trying to get them back on their feet, keep them in Vernal, and you're not shipping them to Salt Lake?
"And in return, you're asking to have access to a grant (fund) that you're already paying into?" Gibson continued, before shaking his head and addressing the rest of the committee. "Representatives, this bill should be a consent bill."
In recent years, state leaders have urged communities other than Salt Lake City, Midvale, Ogden and now South Salt Lake to do their part to help with homelessness, including rural communities. Gibson, who played a role in last year's legislation, thanked Vernal for its efforts before motioning the committee to endorse the bill.
"To think you would step up and do that, that's a big commitment from your community," Gibson said.
The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.