This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Few public officials ask this question out loud: Is the homeless population in the way of creating a vibrant Rio Grande district around Pioneer Park?
But the building momentum to move the Road Home shelter and the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall is unmistakable. And at least one service provider is questioning the motives that could move the homeless population away from the Pioneer Park area.
A prime mover in the new effort to evaluate services for the homeless, as well as the troubled Rio Grande neighborhood, is the nonprofit Pioneer Park Coalition, made up of dozens of private interests and public sector officials. Their stated goal is to improve services for the homeless and the neighborhood, in general.
But Glenn Bailey, executive director of Crossroads Urban Center, said although the coalition has pledged to build 300 permanent housing units for the homeless, it seems to be emphasizing that less as it looks toward options like moving the shelter. Group leaders, he added, may be positioning themselves for business opportunities by relocating the homeless to more remote locations.
"It's clear the agenda is to deal with the Road Home and [St. Vincent de Paul] soup kitchen and always has been," Bailey said this week.
He pointed to an upscale housing project near Pioneer Park planned by Garbett Homes as an example of what to expect.
The coalition is headed up by former state Sen. Scott Howell, who also works for Garbett Homes. Businessman Josh Romney, whose company is involved in real estate, leads the coalition's finance committee. Forrest McNabb of Big D Construction also is among the coalition's leaders.
Howell turned aside Bailey's criticism, noting that the coalition is dedicated to making the Pioneer Park area better for everyone the homeless population, residents and local businesses.
"After reviewing all the data, it was clear to us that what is down there is not working," he said. "The environment down there is a wanton place of criminal activity."
The coalition wants the shelter, as well as its policies, upgraded, Howell said. That could be done at its present location or elsewhere, he noted.
"Why do we treat [homeless people] a little bit better than we treat our dogs," he said. "We want an environment where they are safe and can get back on their feet."
But Bailey took exception to Howell and others in the coalition who propose business models for shelter operations and say procedures utilized by providers are, in some cases, outmoded.
Homeless service providers in Salt Lake City do know how to operate successfully, Bailey said, and perhaps it is the coalition's leaders who are out of their depth.
He posted this on Twitter: "The Pioneer Park Coalition's Scott Howell proposes ideas from 1989 to a city that is way ahead of him."
Bailey conceded, however, that the Pioneer Park Coalition has done some good things. He credited the group for the increased police presence in the Rio Grande area, as well as getting Salt Lake City to pull planned upgrades to Pioneer Park off the back burner.
But he said the coalition's leaders make many decisions behind closed doors.
"They call themselves a coalition," Bailey said. "But a lot of stuff is done outside the general meetings, which is not the type of coalition I'm used to."
What also concerns Bailey is the coalition's apparent successful efforts to convince Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker that homeless service providers should change or move. The governor released a statement earlier this month questioning the location of the Road Home. About the same time, Becker announced the creation of a commission that would assess homeless services and where they are located.
The mayor's hastily announced commission appeared to blunt the coalition's own efforts to seek new sites for the homeless shelter and soup kitchen.
Howell has said his group would wait for the new commission's evaluation, due out sometime next fall.
But according to Elizabeth Buhler, the city's homeless services coordinator, the Becker administration had begun formulating a new "homeless services strategy" in August 2013. Among the six outlined goals of the strategy is: "Determine the best locations for homeless services from multiple perspectives."
The strategy came on the heels of renewed complaints during the summer of that year about the homeless population and associated drug dealing.
In an interview, Buhler said the commission would not consider moving the shelter and soup kitchen unless they could not provide essential services at their present locations.
The membership of Becker's commission has yet to be named. But former Mayor Palmer DePaulis and Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller have been named co-chairs of the organization.
Among the challenges is that the homeless population should have easy access to the Fourth Street Clinic, 409 W. 400 South. The facility recently underwent a multi-million dollar remodel and could only be moved at great cost.
But Bailey sees a rising political tide that could sweep the shelter and soup kitchen off Rio Grande Street to somewhere more distant from the clinic and other services.
"If the mayor, the governor and the people who fund the Road Home thought there was a good plan, that is the kind of momentum that would push them to move."