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Editorial: Neighbors deserve better homeless shelters, not just smaller ones

Published April 21, 2016 4:51 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Now the hard part begins.

That's not to say anything about addressing homelessness in Salt Lake City has been easy. That's obvious to anyone who has watched the chaos in and around the Rio Grande area where Salt Lake City has centered its homeless services.

With business people and residents nipping at their heels, the governments of Salt Lake City and County last year brought together community leaders to size up the problem. It's been a push and pull that has put both the politicians and the homeless service providers on notice that the status quo is not working.



The fruit of that effort has been the formation of a plan, and one key element of that plan is to disperse the homeless population. Instead of one shelter, there will be many.

Coming soon: A Rio Grande near you?

Not exactly. The Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission, headed by Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller and former Mayor Palmer DePaulis, is looking for two locations in Salt Lake City for facilities that would serve and house about 250 people. Those populations would be much smaller than the crowd that now masses in and around the Road Home shelter on Rio Grande Street. More importantly, the new plan calls for the homeless to receive better coordinated and more complete services, wherever they are.

The commission hasn't yet identified how they would divide the population. The existing shelter in Midvale is seen as the family shelter, and Volunteers of America will soon open a facility in Salt Lake City aimed at homeless youth. That still leaves subgroups like single women, the mentally ill and those with addiction issues.

If there is a saving grace in the homeless population, it is the large percentage of people who end up there not because of a lifetime of failure but because a short-term crisis, like losing a job or suffering a serious injury or illness. In those cases, the solutions can be built around temporary bridges. That part of the population is also less likely to include criminals, particularly if they can recover before they get more desperate.

So now comes the challenge of identifying specific locations. There is no talk of using eminent domain and forcing them on neighborhoods, but it's not likely that any neighborhood will embrace the opportunity.

It's also true that access to transportation and services will limit the possibilities, as will the price of property. There probably won't be a shelter in the Federal Heights or Harvard/Yale areas, even though that might foster some healthy interactions for both the homeless and the well-heeled residents.

Ultimately, any location has to be sold as part of the package of solutions. That is, residents who must accept a shelter should expect that they're not just getting a smaller version of the Rio Grande madness. This has to feel like solving a problem, not moving it.

 

 

 

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