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Utah pumping money into fight against homeless shelter overflow, permanent housing search

Utah pumping money into fight against homeless shelter overflow, permanent housing search

(Scott G Winterton, KSL, File)



Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

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SOUTH SALT LAKE — With the last of three new homeless resource centers poised to open in just days, officials continue to plead with landlords in the search for affordable housing units to prevent overflow.

“Momentum and efforts continue to be pushed forward to really bring housing first, as that’s the core function, is to get everyone housed. The goal isn’t to provide a bed for everyone, it’s to make sure someone has a safe, warm place to go — whether that be a resource center, a motel, overflow, obviously housing, or even a warming station that they can go to,” said Preston Cochrane, Shelter the Homeless executive director.

The Men’s Resource Center is set to open Nov. 18 in South Salt Lake, followed soon after by the closing of the downtown shelter — a move expected to intensify overflow problems.

In preparation, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s office Monday evening announced a housing initiative — to be funded with more than $400,000 from the state — meant to identify 123 housing units over the winter.

South Salt Lake shelter opening

Homelessness leaders held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for the new Men’s Resource Center at 3380 S. 1000 West in South Salt Lake, which will house up to 300 men.

The Road Home’s downtown shelter, 210 S. Rio Grande St., will then close at the beginning of December, removing 1,100 emergency beds from the system.

Becky Pickle, board of trustees president elect for the Road Home, which will run the new men’s center, said the organization looks forward to helping men experiencing homelessness in a place designed specifically for that purpose.

“First, having a building that was made to be a shelter, it’s going to be so much easier for us to provide a safe environment, and we’re just really excited to start getting the men moved in. On Nov. 18, we’ll start that. But we really believe in this model, so it’s a good model and we believe that it will be the best thing for those experiencing homelessness in the future. We just need to get through these few months of bumps here,” Pickle explained.

She said the move will be “a challenge,” as asking those experiencing tough times “to move and change things” is traumatizing and difficult for clients. Putting people in permanent housing will remain a first priority, she said.

Another challenge the center has faced is complying with requests of South Salt Lake, which has expressed concerns with safety issues from having the center there. Earlier this year, the mayor tried to impose “nonnegotiables” within the center’s conditional use permit, demanding that the shelter prohibit active drug users from entry, check for and report outstanding warrants, and that the city be reimbursed for all public safety calls if they exceed what the state is already covering, among a long list of other requirements.

Last year, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General published a report saying it found “serious concerns about the health and safety of the residents” at the Road Home’s homeless shelters in both Salt Lake and Midvale “due to a lax enforcement of the rules.”

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But Cochrane said that since then, the organization has tightened its rules and increased safety, including installing metal detectors and implementing a more thorough bag inspection process.

The smaller size of the center — and the fact that it’s just for men — will also help it stay more secure, according to Pickle, while the downtown shelter included hundreds of men and women.

Cochrane said the center plans to work with its neighbors to alleviate safety concerns.

“We look forward to being a trusted neighbor. Obviously, coming into a new community and serving a vulnerable population, and one that has caused concern for many residents in the vicinity, we want to make sure that safety is the No. 1 concern for everybody, for those staying here and for the neighbors and everyone else,” Cochrane said.

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood in a statement expressed optimism about housing the shelter in the city.

“South Salt Lake has an 80-year history of strong neighborhoods, robust businesses and resilient residents. As a community, we have always thrived on welcoming all who seek opportunity,” Wood said.

She said at the new facility, men “will find opportunity and a fresh start.”

“South Salt Lake intends to connect those in need to available resources and set them on a path of stability and success. We seek to provide the best services possible to those who will utilize the center. We are committed to a safe, effective facility,” Wood said.

The facility is also seeking volunteers. Pickle said meal serving provides a unique opportunity for families to volunteer together. Information can be found on https://www.theroadhome.org/.

Push to find long-term housing

As part of the new housing initiative to fight shelter overflow, leaders “will be proactively calling upon landlords in the region to work with stakeholders to help find creative solutions to closing the housing gap,” Biskupski’s office said in a statement.

The funding will be used to provide emergency housing assistance, hire additional case managers, give rental assistance, and create a housing retention fund, among other things, according to city officials.

Finding more permanent housing options will be key to keeping the resource centers from overflowing, said Christina Davis, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which has been facilitating the transition into the new homeless resource centers.

David Litvack, Biskupski’s deputy chief of staff, said landlords have already been reaching out to the city housing authority, though he did not have an estimate on how many as of Tuesday.

“We are having some additional units, and so now we’re just putting all the pieces together so we can begin to match the individuals to those units,” Litvack said.

“There’s a definite sense of urgency in part due to moving to the new resource centers, but I would also say that there’s a sense of urgency because we want, and we have always wanted, and part of our core effort has always been, to have a housing-centric homeless services system.”

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But while courting landlords is what officials are “working hard on,” Davis said they also are in discussions with other service providers to find backup beds. Among them, one substance use disorder treatment center has offered 78 new treatment beds, Davis said. More information about those other options is expected to be announced next week.

Cochrane said, “Any units you can come online that would be able to be lower, affordable for the population that we’re serving, the better. That’s our whole focus, that’s our whole goal right now.”

In the meantime, he said, no one will need to stay out in the cold at night.

“Everyone will have a place to go, for sure. It may not be their ideal. They may try to get into a resource center, and it might be full for that day or that night, but the whole part of coordinated entry and intake is to identify where is the best place for that person to go,” he said.

Matthew Melville, homeless services director for Catholic Community Services of Utah, said the organization is working to open up the Wiegand Center waiting area, located next to the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall, to keep people warm.

He said there is a sense of urgency to open the building to that purpose, and Catholic Community Services is working on getting the resources to do it.

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