SALT LAKE CITY — The South Salt Lake homeless resource center has taken in its last group of men Thursday afternoon, clearing the way for the Road Home’s downtown center to close, officials announced.
“What that means as of today the downtown shelter is closed for services,” said Michelle Flynn, interim executive director of the Road Home, told reporters at a news conference Thursday. “We’ll be moving out of that building by the end of the month.”
The closure of the downtown shelter comes after longstanding skepticism that the three new homeless resource centers — the 300-bed South Salt Lake Men’s Resource Center, the 200-bed mixed gender Gail Miller Resource Center, and the 200-bed Geraldine E. King Resource Center — would be enough to keep the homeless out of the cold this winter.
But Thursday, state and homelessness officials reiterated their pledge that everyone will have options to get off the streets, including up to 58 mats for overflow at the St. Vincent De Paul’s Dining Hall and now space for up to 100 people at Catholic Community Services’ Weigand Center, which will be used as an overnight “warming center” in addition to its day center services, Jon Hardy, director of the Housing and Community Development Division at the Department of Workforce Services.
“We will make sure we will have a place to get everyone out of the cold,” Hardy said.
That’s in addition to using motel vouchers for women and increasing housing options after state and city officials put out a call to landlords to help house more people.
David Litvack, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s deputy chief of staff, said 26 landlords had answered the call, bringing on 73 more units. As of Thursday, 12 people had been housed since the push was announced about a month ago, and 34 people are in the “pipeline” that have been approved for funding, but are working with housing locators to move in.
However, dozens of men have refused to leave the downtown area, said Pamela Atkinson, a local homelessness advocate, amid fears and frustrations with the new system.
“Is everybody happy? No,” Atkinson said. “There are a lot of firm men who were very angry ... They shared their anger in no uncertain words, but that’s our job to listen.”
Atkinson said many of the men that have refused to go felt as though their “community” downtown was being broken up.
“Many of our homeless friends formed a community. That was their community,” Atkinson said. “That was their family and we were saying to them, ‘So sorry you have to move. We have to break you up.’ But you can form new communities out at the new resource center.”
Atkinson said she and other homeless providers have been and will continue working with the men to feel more comfortable with the transition, but she acknowledged change takes time. She noted others who were previously wary about the move earlier this week eventually came around — and some were “delighted” — when they realized all the services at the new centers, including three meals a day.
“Some people who were angry are now safely out in the men’s center,” Atkinson said.
Thursday’s closure of the downtown shelter comes as perhaps the last final step in the state’s effort to transition into a new homeless services model that has been billed as one that will be more housing- and service-focused.