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Editorial: A painful process, but shelter plan is best yet

Published February 27, 2017 5:51 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Calling this process sausage making is an insult to sausage, but give politicians at the state, county and city credit for getting in the meat grinder together.

Legislative leaders from both houses joined Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams to announce the latest plan for addressing the homeless problem and its devastating toll on both homeless people and the Rio Grande community where they gather.

Gone is the contentious plan to put a shelter in Sugar House. Gone, too, is the plan to put one not far from the current Road Home shelter. Instead we'll go ahead with two Salt Lake City shelters and a third one elsewhere in the county at a still-to-be-chosen site. The shelters will grow to 200 clients apiece instead of 150.



That's assuming this plan sticks, which the previous ones didn't. As disjointed as the rollout of shelter sites has been, the latest plan is also the best.

The new plan does two things. First, it reduces the overall number of shelters, thereby cutting the number of neighborhoods affected while increasing some efficiencies. The second thing is that it spreads the burden of shelters beyond Salt Lake City. Data have shown that the homeless generally are Utahns, but not necessarily Salt Lake City residents (at least not until they were homeless).

Credit for reducing the number of shelters is said to come from Department of Workforce Services data about the number of homeless families. DWS indicates the current Midvale shelter should be enough for families, negating the need for the Simpson Avenue (Sugar House) site. It seems unlikely that data changed significantly since the plan for four shelters was announced in September, so it's probably more evidence that the four-site plan was never fully analyzed.

On paper, Salt Lake City is the clear winner in this latest iteration. It dropped from four 150-client shelters to two 200-person shelters, and it received a firm commitment to close the Road Home shelter in two years. While no one denies the Road Home shelter is helping people who might otherwise suffer in the elements, it is universally agreed that the environment around the shelter is an unsustainable mess.

But the city won't feel like it's winning if the closure of Road Home isn't coupled with a comprehensive attack on the surrounding crime problem. If the shelter is simply closed, the drug dealers will follow the homeless and continue to prey. The best way to address that is treatment beds, which are still better than jail beds, although admittedly we may need both at first. That also takes a statewide commitment, hopefully one that won't be such a grind.

 

 

 

 

 

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