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SALT LAKE CITY — Homelessness leaders finally expect to pay off the hefty debt incurred with the construction of the three new homeless resource centers in 2019 with a multimillion dollar donation from Salt Lake County.
The Salt Lake County Council approved up to $7 million for Shelter the Homeless as part of its June budget adjustment on Tuesday. The budget also includes $8.4 million in water conservation projects.
County leaders noted the funding for homelessness resources is part of an agreement made during this year's legislative session, when lawmakers appropriated $5.8 million and required a match from the county to help Shelter the Homeless pay off its debt.
Salt Lake County Mayor Wilson proposed contributing an amount "slightly greater than what is expected to be required to allow for flexibility and ensure the support completely fills the gap," county leaders said in a news release.
"Shelter the Homeless is crucial to provide shelter and services for people experiencing homelessness across the county," Wilson said. "This funding will allow them to focus on their mission to provide meals, safety, and solutions."
To build the three resource centers that replaced the old downtown Road Home shelter, Shelter the Homeless took out a nearly $18 million loan after previously seeking about $21 million from Salt Lake County. Last year, the nonprofit said the loan balance stood at about $16 million.
The three resource centers include a 300-bed men's shelter in South Salt Lake; the 200-bed Gail Miller Resource Center in Salt Lake City that serves men and women; and, the Geraldine E. King Women's Resource Center in Salt Lake City that can accommodate 200 women.
The resource centers were intended to overhaul the area's shelter model. But three years in, homelessness resource advocates have continued to face hurdles creating enough space, including temporary overflow beds, to meet the demand. This year, the Legislature also appropriated $70 million toward housing and homelessness — $55 million for deeply affordable housing competitive grants combined with $15 million for housing preservation
Salt Lake Council Chairwoman Laurie Stringham said paying off the shelter system's debt early will save taxpayers money in the future.
"The opportunity to also address and bring attention to the issue of homelessness is a bonus," she said.
The County Council also approved Wilson's proposal to convert three sports fields to artificial turf, which will cost $6.2 million, and to flip park strips at 40 county facilities for $2.2 million. Leaders say changing the strips will save about 5.3 million gallons of water a year, and converting the fields will save 6.5 million gallons yearly.
"By saving millions of gallons of water each year, Salt Lake County is doing our part to conserve water. We hope more businesses and residents will be inspired to take action when they see the new fields and parking strips, too. If we all do a little, we can save a whole lot," Wilson said.