More work to do before homeless center sites announced

Before a packed room in the Public Safety Complex on Tuesday, the Salt Lake City Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission presented to the public its updated timeline leading to a possible final site selection for new homeless services resource centers by year’s end.

According to David Litvack, the deputy chief of staff for Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s office, the 28-member commission plans to present a finalized list of sites for the proposed resource centers to City Council by November 1st. But before that happens, the Commission must decide on a final list and hold a series of public engagement workshops and open houses over the next two months.

“This is a very aggressive timeline,” said Litvack.  “We need to reimagine what homeless services can look like in our community.”

Former Salt Lake Mayor, Ralph Becker, and Salt Lake County Mayor, Ben McAdams, launched the site selection commission in December 2014.  After dozens of meetings, open houses and public workshops, the Commission,co-chaired by Gail Miller of Larry H. Miller Companies and for Salt Lake Mayor, Paul DePaulis, decided the best way to improve homeless services was to break up the services cluster west of Pioneer Park and instead transition to specialized centers scattered across the Salt Lake Valley.

The Commission has yet to announce any sites being considered.  Litvack argued that environmental concerns, community impact and the nature of the population that will be served (including registered sex offenders) limit where the new resource centers could be located.  The sites of the new resource centers will also need to have reliable access to public transit, an issue Litvack mentioned was important to participants in workshops and feedback sessions.

Commission leaders want to add 500 new emergency shelter beds, with two 250-bed centers that would serve single men and single women separately.  Even though they plan to add shelter beds, Litvack argued that the goal of the new resource centers is to actually reduce the need of emergency shelters.

The shelters will be designed to impede crime and discourage congregating outside with separate entrances for different populations eliminating the need for the long queues often seen outside the state’s largest emergency shelter, the Road Home.  The Road Home provides beds on a first-come, first-serve basis which leads to long lines as many people show up early in the day to ensure a bed that night.

In conjunction with the new centers, Salt Lake County is changing how it works with service providers and oversees homeless services.  Last year McAdams launched the Collective Impact Action Plan to better collaborate with the 31 area service providers and implement 14 outcomes intended to reduce homelessness.

According to McAdams the plan going forward is to “move away from dependency on emergency shelters.”  McAdams told the Salt Lake City Council earlier this month that the county will shift to a treatment based system and be more proactive in reaching people at risk before they require emergency housing.  The county will also contribute $1 million to improve behavioral health services.

With the 2017 Utah Legislative Session looming, members of the site selection  commission will be working aggressively over the next five months to have concrete plans ready to present to state leaders when the legislature reconvenes in January.  The 2016 legislature approved $9.25 million towards building new facilities and improving homeless services.  The City and County estimate that in all $27 million will be needed.

Before the next round of public workshops, staff will need to develop property worksheets for potential sites that could best accommodate the centers.   Once those sites are identified, staff will then need to go before the Commission for approval.

“We envision robust community engagement with the new resource centers,” said Litvack.

During the Tuesday’s presentation, several residents expressed concern about the proposed number of beds.  Last week during a work session, City Council members echoed the same concerns.

“Putting this in a neighborhood or business area is going to have a dramatic affect on the area,” said Council member Charlie Luke during last week’s work session.”

McAdams argued that 250 is a workable number and that the 500 beds could be dispersed among three centers instead of two if the public and Council deem it necessary.

Even after the final sites are selected it could take months before construction starts.  Litvack anticipates that any proposed sites will need require a conditional use approval or land use amendment which would require approval by the Planning Commission and potentially City Council.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.