This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
With Salt Lake City's Rio Grande District poised for a renaissance, there's a movement afoot to evaluate whether the homeless should be moved away from Pioneer Park.
It's not the first time such a stratagem has been entertained. About every decade or so, a serious drive is mounted to do just that.
Mayor Ralph Becker's announcement late last week that he would take a serious look at the quandary, caught many by surprise. The mayor often touts Salt Lake City's success at leading the nation in its treatment of its homeless residents.
Nonetheless, Becker's newly proposed Homeless Service Site Evaluation Commission will consider relocating The Road Home emergency shelter, St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall, the Rescue Mission and the Fourth Street Clinic.
Even Gov. Gary Herbert has weighed in, according to spokesman Marty Carpenter.
"The governor feels there are legitimate questions about whether or not our homeless population is best served by the homeless shelter's current location," Carpenter said. "There is no question historic Pioneer Park and the Rio Grande area have become magnets for the homeless, bringing to these areas an increased incidence in arrests for drugs, violent crime and sexual solicitation."
Others have tried unsuccessfully to herd the homeless population and the crime associated with it away from Pioneer Park and the Rio Grande District.
In 1996, then-Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini ordered cops on horseback to close Pioneer Park in an effort to drive away the homeless and attendant drug dealing. The place was fenced off to everyone.
That soon led to nearby businesses and residents complaining that people were living in their fitzer bushes and selling drugs at their doorsteps.
In 2004, the Salt Lake Chamber hatched a $44 million plan to locate all homeless-service providers on one block. Former Mayor Rocky Anderson dubbed the proposal unconscionable at a public hearing and it fizzled away.
But this time may be different. Pioneer Park and the surrounding Rio Grande area used to be at the edge of the city. Increasingly, however, the district is part of it.
And the Rio Grande area is ripe for development of high-density housing and the city Redevelopment Agency is helping push a makeover. It's looking toward new development on lands it holds there, particularly along 300 South from 500 West to 600 West.
Another prime mover in the new effort to spruce up the area is the Pioneer Park Coalition. The coalition is made up of about 250 individuals from public and private interests, including homeless-service providers, police, businesses, such as Big D Construction, and developers, such as Garbett Homes and The Romney Group.
"The objective is to create a better quality of life for everyone," said former state Sen. Scott Howell, who heads up the group and is a consultant with Garbett Homes.
The Pioneer Park Coalition is raising funds to build 300 affordable housing units for homeless people, Howell said. It also had previously considered moving or renovating The Road Home.
Now that Becker has named a site-evaluation commission, Howell said his group will wait to see the commission's recommendations.
Coalition member and businesswoman Tiffany Provost said homelessness in the area has not improved in past decades and in the past year or two has gotten worse. She said the coalition wants to work with The Road Home and other providers toward a master plan that would quantify success placing clients in homes and jobs.
For new development to occur, the place has to be more safe and secure, said Forrest McNabb, of Big D. "Nobody is going to invest in a downtrodden area."
And although much of the homeless population is peaceful, there is a criminal element within and around it.
Josh Romney, whose company is involved in real estate, acknowledges the complexity of the issue and the challenges posed by a decision to move the shelter.
"A lot of criteria has to be met to even think about moving the homeless shelter. It's very complicated," Romney, son of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said. "You look at the prison relocation [underway in the state]. I almost think that's nothing compared to moving the homeless shelter."
The Pioneer Park Coalition is seeking a paradigm shift in the way Salt Lake City houses, cares for and trains homeless people, including new housing.
But it's clear that such development wouldn't be the only new housing going up. It's no secret that Garbett Homes wants to build in the area and the RDA will attract more projects.
Restaurants and shops would follow new, upscale apartments and condos. Some see the area becoming a new hip zone in the city.
Former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis has been tapped as co-chairman of the commission, along with Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller.
DePaulis recalled that in the 1980s, The Road Home, St. Vincent de Paul and the Fourth Street Clinic were located near one anther by design. But, he noted, with the coming of The Gateway mall, there has been increasing pressure to move the homeless-service providers and their clients.
"Gail and I want to open a discussion up and have a good deliberate process in an effort to make things better," he said. "We're keeping an open mind, but we don't want to reinvent the wheel."
By contrast, City Councilman James Rogers said he doesn't favor moving the shelter and the soup kitchen. He believes that if that happens, they would most likely be relocated to the west, potentially in his District 1.
"It looks like they want to move it to the west side," he said, "and that's a shame if that's the choice."
Councilman Kyle LaMalfa, who represents District 2, also on the west side, said he has some concerns with the commission's charge. "I'm going to come unglued it they decide to move it to the west side," he said. "I don't think it will help the community to be successful."
Road Home executive director Matt Minkevitch said he could not weigh in on whether the shelter should be moved. But he did compliment the Pioneer Park Coalition for its stated goal of building housing units designed for homeless people.
Of all the service providers, moving the Fourth Street Clinic could be the most challenging, said CEO Laura Michalski.
The facility recently underwent a multimillion-dollar makeover. Further, Michalski said, it is important that the homeless population using the shelter and soup kitchen has easy access to the clinic and its partners.
Nonetheless, the community's most prominent homeless advocate, Pamela Atkinson, said the commission is "a great idea" to evaluate homeless services and the gaps in services.
"The bottom line is, we all have to listen to one another and seek solutions for homeless people as well as businesspeople," she said. "Mayor Becker has made it clear all options are on the table, whether it's relocating or rehabilitating."