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Residents opposed to Sugar House homeless shelter site turn to state for help
February 6, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY — State leaders requested millions in legislative funding for homeless services and affordable housing Monday, though some residents used the same committee meeting to ask lawmakers to bar money from Salt Lake City's planned Sugar House homeless shelter.

"Please, please do not allow any funding that could be used to destroy our neighborhood," Sugar House resident Robert Breeze asked the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

Breeze and several others asked lawmakers to blocks funds from the proposed homeless resource center at 653 E. Simpson Ave., one of four shelters planned to overhaul Salt Lake City's homeless services and eventually close the Road Home downtown.

"It's disgusting this is even still an option on the table," said resident Chris Sveiven, one of the most vocal opponents of the Sugar House site.

Sveiven criticized Mayor Jackie Biskupski and other city leaders for standing firm on the controversial site, which has drawn public outcry because of its impact on the neighborhood, nearby businesses and its $7 million price tag.

"Someone has to step up and help us," he said.

Later in the meeting, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and John Pierpont, director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, asked for $3.5 million — included in Gov. Gary Herbert's budget proposal — to help Salt Lake City build four new shelters, as well as fund other efforts to increase the access to homeless services.

Cox acknowledged that homelessness has become a "controversial" topic within Salt Lake City, but he said the city, Salt Lake County and state partners are "all working together to solve the puzzle of homelessness in our state."

Pierpont said the funding will be used to "diffuse the mass humanity and safety concerns now experienced down at the Rio Grande area of Salt Lake City."

"Decentralizing housing crisis services will increase safety, decrease impact on the surrounding communities and directly influence the quality of services received for the individuals experiencing homeless shelters," he said.

Pierpont noted the $3.5 million request, combined with last year's appropriations, will be sufficient to begin work on two of the new shelters in the next 18 months.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, spoke in support of the appropriation, calling the funds "vital" for homeless programming while adding that there are "clearly some issues" that need to be worked out.

"This is a priority item, but you've still got some work to do with constituents that will be impacted," Shiozawa said.

Biskupski's spokesman, Matthew Rojas, said in an interview later Monday that the mayor agrees the city needs to have "productive conversations" with concerned neighbors. County partners also need to help show how the new service model will be starkly different from what Salt Lake City residents currently know, he said.

Rojas added that the mayor's administration is confident the Legislature will take a "long and reasoned look" at the funding requests.

"We really have an unprecedented level of bipartisan cooperation from the city, the county and the state," he said. "We all want to change the model that we have now."

The committee also received nearly $10 million in other requests to fund programs impacting homeless issues.

Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, also requested $4 million to help increase the state's affordable housing stock through funding tax credits to incentivize developers to build more new affordable housing units.

Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, also requested $5 million for a state income tax credit for families experiencing intergenerational poverty who are working and also qualify for the federal earned income tax credit. Westwood said it's expected that 15,000 to 20,000 families will receive the annual tax credit averaging $250, with a maximum of about $600 depending on income and number of children.

Additionally, Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, requested $850,000 in one-time money to fund a 25-bed expansion at INN Between, a hospice facility in Salt Lake City that connects terminally ill patients experiencing homelessness with end-of-life care.

Kim Correa, INN Between's executive director, urged lawmakers to support the appropriation, noting that the current 15-bed facility, 340 S. Goshen, is full most nights and last month had to turn away 20 people because there was no more space.

The expansion would be built on the north end of the facility's current property, she said.

Correa noted that the facility helped 19 people experience "death with dignity" since its August 2015 opening.

"Providing compassion at the end of life is something we can all be proud of," she said.

Shiozawa also spoke in favor of the INN Between funding, saying the model prevents expensive emergency room visits while also providing humane treatment.

"Having people cared for in a compassionate setting is far better than being in a hospital, where it's going to cost us as taxpayers so much more. And it's so much better for the patient," he said.