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SALT LAKE CITY — With three weeks to go until the Road Home’s downtown shelter is slated to shutter, homelessness leaders are moving ahead, preparing to begin moving homeless men into the final new resource center next week.
Officials are still intent on closing the downtown shelter in less than three weeks, despite a protest next week and a Salt Lake City Council pack-in planned for Tuesday night. State officials say they’re on track, already seeing promising returns from their call to action to area landlords in a search for housing options.
Meanwhile, the 300-bed men’s resource center in South Salt Lake has received its final green light. The South Salt Lake Planning Commission has approved final amendments to the conditional use permit after South Salt Lake officials compromised with the centers’ owner, Shelter the Homeless, on final language to the permit.
The permit, passed unanimously on Thursday, clears the way for the new center to begin taking in men. The Road Home, which was chosen to operate the new center, has been moving in staff and making finishing touches on the building, preparing to begin moving in clients next week.
“It’s looking good,” said Michelle Flynn, the Road Home’s associate executive director of programs. “We will plan to start that transition as soon as possible, and our goal is to have that done next week.”
As winter approaches, capacity issues have stirred public concern of whether the Road Home’s up-to 1,100-bed downtown shelter should close this season.
Utah political leaders have been intent on closing the shelter, particularly after a state audit found drug use and safety concerns within the shelter’s walls, as a final step to move away from Salt Lake County’s old homeless system into a new, more service-focused system. Three new, smaller centers meant to break up the Road Home’s population were built in Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake.
For years, some have expressed skepticism about whether the new centers’ capacity total of 700 beds would be enough to meet demand. State officials last year, when responding to those concerns, said the need for an additional overflow shelter would be a “worst-case scenario.” They expressed confidence that other methods to divert people from shelters — such as housing programs, motel vouchers or other strategies — would be enough.
Within weeks of opening, the centers in Salt Lake City reached capacity, prompting homeless service providers to use motel voucher money or lay down mats at the St. Vincent De Paul dining hall as an overflow option, which can shelter up to 58 people.
The 300-bed South Salt Lake men’s center is already expected to hit capacity, short by at least 100 beds.
As of Sunday night, 404 men slept at the Road Home’s downtown shelter, according to Flynn.
To address capacity concerns, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and other homelessness leaders issued a call to landlords to help locate additional units to divert people from homelessness, confident additional housing, motel vouchers and plans to potentially use Catholic Community Services’ Weigand Center as an overnight waiting room for clients waiting for beds would be enough to keep people off the streets once the Road Home’s downtown shelter closes.
As of Monday, at least 77 new housing units had been located through the landlord push, said Nate McDonald, spokesman for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which has been coordinating the transition to the new homeless system.
“We’ve had a great response so far,” McDonald said, noting that about 22 landlords have come forward offering the additional units.
However, McDonald said they’re still in search of one-bedroom or studio apartment units and are working with case managers to identify clients to move in. The aim has been to locate between 50 to 60 new housing units, but they’re aiming to find at least 120 to help house current and future clients.
“We’re definitely optimistic and we’re still on track, but obviously a lot of work is going to have to take place over the next two to three weeks with case managers and working with individuals and connecting the right units to the right people,” McDonald said.
Meanwhile, a homeless shelter in Weber County, where officials have tracked a disproportionate number of homeless people rising in recent years, is having capacity concerns of its own.
The Lantern House in Ogden dropped from 300 beds to 211 beds in July after coding enforcement found issues with the facility, according to Lauren Navidomskis, Lantern House’s executive director.
Navidomskis said she and her team are working to address coding issues and bring the shelter’s capacity back to 300, but in the meantime they’ve opened the shelter’s soup kitchen as an overflow area to house up to 63 people.
Navidomskis said some people were “turned away” during the July downsizing, but since the opening of the soup kitchen she said others have been connected with services in some form, including in partnerships with Ogden’s other homeless shelter, Rescue Mission. She said she’s “very optimistic” about restoring capacity by the first week of December.
Officials don’t expect the Ogden shelter to impact the Salt Lake County transition to a new system, or vice versa.
While Navidomskis said she’s seen a “small influx” of individuals from the Salt Lake area, she hasn’t noticed a significant impact from the transition down south. McDonald said based on state homeless data, the Ogden and Salt Lake City areas are seen as two separate systems with little overlap.
“There’s been very little duplication of people utilizing the Lantern House and also utilizing service providers in Salt Lake City,” McDonald said.
Still, state officials say they’re keeping a close eye on the Ogden area.
“We’ve definitely been aware of the situation in Ogden and monitoring what’s taken place there,” McDonald said. “If it becomes a heavier burden, we’ll work with them to try and figure out what they need to do to get the capacity that they’ve lost back.”