Policy Makers React to Four New Shelter Locations and Closing of Road Home

New shelter locations: 1) 653 East Simpson Ave. (2240 South); 2) 275 West High Avenue (1475 South); 3) 131 East 700 South; 4) 648 West 100 South

After a number of delays, the locations of Salt Lake City’s homeless resource centers were made public Tuesday. “Today is a finale for a very long and difficult process that many, many people have dedicated their time and their efforts to and taken extremely seriously,” said Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller, who co-chaired the Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission alongside former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis.

In a joint press conference with the Salt Lake City Council, Mayor Jackie Biskupski named the four sites — 653 East Simpson Avenue (2240 South) in Sugar House, 275 West High Avenue (1475 South) in Ballpark, 131 East 700 South in Central City, and 648 West 100 South in Downtown. Each site will accommodate no more than 150 people.

Biskupski’s spokesman, Matthew Rojas, confirmed Monday that The Road Home shelter on Rio Grande Street will be closed once the homeless resource centers are complete. The existing shelter holds roughly 1,100 people, meaning that the city will experience a net loss of 500 beds once the plan is fully implemented; and the announcement comes as a bit of a surprise considering that the new shelters were seen as a supplement to the existing shelter system as early as last month.

Noticeably absent from the press conference was Salt Lake County Mayor, Ben McAdams, who, earlier this month, proposed as part of the county budget funds to go towards the HOMES Initiative – a county-wide initiative designed to coordinate resources and pull in legislative funds to help reduce homelessness across the valley.

The sites represent more than just land, Biskupski said. “They are spaces of hope for those in need and an opportunity for the community to compassionately move from homelessness to housing. These locations and the centers that will be built on them represent the best of who we are in Salt Lake City, a city for everyone.” The sites were the result of a two-year investigation.

Salt Lake City Council Chairman James Rogers believes the centers are a major step forward in improving the homeless situation. “These new resource centers are key to a change. They are part of a communitywide effort to shape our services and facilities to provide support and hope for those in compromised situations. It is compassion that drives our decision-making. We respect the concerns of neighborhoods and look to help those in need on the streets.” Calling it a “generational decision,” Rogers said care should be taken to ensure that “solid and lasting decisions are being made with taxpayers money.”

Representatives Rebecca Chavez-Houck (Democrat – Salt Lake City) and Angela Romero (Democrat – Salt Lake City), whose districts include Downtown Salt Lake City, released supportive statements during the press conference.

“The new sites are a vital part of how our state will build a culture of success and sustainability in the face of extensive population growth and difficulties that often accompany that growth.” Chavez-Houck said in her statement, adding that “the city has affirmed that uncertainty is not an option, and that they are ready to provide those services and supports to ensure that our city and our state is moving forward through this very difficult and likely controversial decision. I appreciate the work that has been done so far.”

“I value the hard work of the Mayor and the City Council on providing resources to our most vulnerable.” Romero added. “They have recognized the growing needs and have stepped up as leaders and examples. As we move forward, legislators and other local elected officials will have a positive model to mirror as we address this statewide issue. It is the legislature’s turn to now commit to funding mental health, substance abuse, and many other programs to ensure success. I look forward to working with legislative colleagues, members of my community, and city officials as plans to develop these sites progress.”

Representative Joel Briscoe (Democrat – Salt Lake City), who represents Sugar House, also weighed in. “I am proud to live in a city that is willing to step up and help those in the greatest need. I am grateful that the Governor and Speaker Hughes have voiced their commitment, and look forward to working with them and other members of the legislature to provide the funding to make the necessary resources available. We must also listen to the citizens of Salt Lake City as we work to make sure there is a smooth transition to these new shelters.”

The Simpson Avenue and High Avenue sites are expected to cost the city $9.7 million. The 700 South property is the current location of a Deseret Industries store, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Salt Lake City-based faith has given the city an option to purchase the land within the next three years, while a search is commenced to locate a suitable place in Downtown for a new Deseret Industries store.

Biskupski praised the LDS Church for being the strongest possible advocate in assisting Salt Lake City through the process. “Their willingness to explore possibilities and, of course, their long-standing commitment to helping those in need has been a great asset to our city.”

The final parcel is owned by the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City. The city hopes to begin construction on some sites by 2017, with completion as early as 2018.

Following the press conference, social media exploded with negative reactions from Salt Lakers. Although the public wasn’t given the opportunity to weigh in on the locations of the four sites, the city is now looking for their feedback. “We expect the public to have a significant voice in the design and building process,” said Biskupski.

Three public workshops will be held at the Public Safety Building, 475 South 300 East. They will take place on Wednesday, January 11 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. and 6:00-8:00 p.m. and Wednesday, January 18 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

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