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SALT LAKE CITY — The Weigand Center will be closing its doors as a temporary overflow shelter Wednesday despite it opening just a month prior, the Salt Lake City Council learned Tuesday in a work session.
The Weigand Center opened Jan. 10, supplying Salt Lake City with 35 more beds for winter overflow, after a series of struggles. The center's opening was a step forward in supplying some of the 300 winter overflow beds requested by the Salt Lake Valley Coalition prior to winter.
"To try to get everything into place has been difficult and so we're excited about opening Weigand," said Kathy Bray, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Utah, prior to the shelter's opening. "It's a step in the right direction to get us to all the beds that we think we will need this winter. This will provide 35 more people with a spot to sleep tonight."
But now directions have seemed to shift as the Weigand Center closes as a temporary winter overflow shelter though it remains for regular daytime services, and the remodeled Ramada finally opens for winter overflow Tuesday evening.
The Ramada Inn space in its full capacity, along with the Wiegand Center, was meant to provide a portion of the 300 temporary overflow beds requested by the Salt Lake Valley Coalition, so the Weigand Center's premature closing reduces the number of beds available.
The remodeled Ramada opened on Jan. 18 at a limited capacity for those homeless individuals over the age of 65 or who are considered vulnerable due to a medical condition. The noncongregate area of the shelter serves approximately 116 individuals currently and will begin to serve more with the closure of the Weigand Center.
Two additional spaces — one for men and one for women — had been identified in the remodeled Ramada for overnight shelter but continue to see delays due to staffing, according to Michelle Flynn, executive director of the Road Home.
"Really it has been a staffing challenge," Flynn said of the delay. "With omicron's spread we had a lot of people out sick and so our staff have been working double shifts and overtime. Our staff from one facility (is) working extra shifts at another facility to make sure that we are sufficiently staffed to provide safety and services to the people in all of our other programs. So that has definitely set back that opening."
The Weigand Center struggled with staffing from the start, with Utah homeless services coordinator Wayne Niederhauser and state staff filling in for shifts. The struggle to meet staffing needs is ultimately the reason for the closure, Salt Lake City homeless director Andrew Johnston told the council, who seemed taken aback by the announcement.
"They've been struggling for a bit and utilizing other staff at VOA to cover overtime shifts for that center to keep it open, and it's just not feasible. So it made more sense for them to consolidate with the Road Home at the Ramada. They can have more beds more easily out there and scale up more quickly," Johnston explained.
St. Vincent DePaul will continue to be open every night, and the Ramada's opening will bring another 45 beds on a first-come-first-serve basis, according to Johnston. Transportation from the Rio Grande area and Weigand Center to the Ramada Inn will be available in the evening "so folks can get there fairly easily, we hope," he told the council.
The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness released a statement regarding the closure, which reads, in part:
"This transition is a continuation of our collective efforts to provide consistent and safe shelter to those in need during the winter months. We remain committed to responding to the needs of those who are unsheltered and being flexible and responsible as a system. We are assessing overflow needs in our community and our ability to expand capacity. We have space to open 24 additional beds in the Ramada if needed and feasible. The Weigand Center served a critical role in providing safe and overflow beds to those experiencing homelessness during the first months of winter. We are grateful to all the providers and funders who helped open this much-needed resource and continue to support our consolidated efforts at the former Ramada Inn."
While homeless service providers continue to struggle with staffing shortages and COVID-19 surges the needs of those experiencing homelessness continue. With shelters operating at a 97% overnight capacity and a winter storm approaching Tuesday evening, the Weigand Center's closure is unfortunate timing.