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The mayor's commission to evaluate homeless services in downtown Salt Lake City looks like a stacked deck to some members of the City Council who wonder if moving the homeless shelter is a done deal.
The 28-member Homeless Services Site Evaluation Committee will meet for the first time Monday. By the end of the year, it will make a recommendation on whether The Road Home shelter should remain where it is at 210 S. Rio Grande Street or be moved elsewhere.
Former Mayor Palmer DePaulis, who is co-chairman of the commission with Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller, said there is no predetermined outcome. The group seeks to find improvements to services for homeless people as well as enhance the Pioneer Park area.
He noted, however, that everything must be considered. "Are things sited where they need to be? That has to be on the table. We have to discuss it all," DePaulis said.
That does little to assuage the concerns of City Council members Kyle LaMalfa, Luke Garrott, James Rogers and Erin Mendenhall. No one from the council was appointed to the commission. No homeless people were invited to sit on the new panel, either, they say. And no community representatives from the west side were tapped to participate.
By contrast, LaMalfa said that Pioneer Park area property owners and business interests are well represented on the commission.
He fears the shelter will be moved to the west side of Salt Lake City, where members of the Pioneer Park Coalition a group of business and community leaders and service providers already have been identifying potential sites for a new shelter. LaMalfa's District 2 encompasses the west-side neighborhoods of Glendale and Poplar Grove.
"We draw parallels with the prison relocation," LaMalfa said. "People convened with the intent to move the prison, but no one was there saying, 'keep it where it is.' "
Further, LaMalfa said, it will be difficult for council members to buy into the commission's findings if the City Council is not part of the effort from the beginning.
The Pioneer Park Coalition, made up of about 200 people from the public and private sectors, had earlier discussed evaluating homeless services and the potential for moving the shelter before Becker announced the formation of a commission late last year. Some members of the coalition's executive committee are Rio Grande district property owners and developers.
The Becker administration has not explained to the council how the homeless commission will determine whether the shelter and St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen should be moved, said council Chairman Luke Garrott.
"It's very vague," he said.
Garrott, who is challenging Becker in the mayoral election, said he senses the commission's "services evaluation" mandate may have taken a back seat to "shelter-site selection."
The commission will weigh all aspects of services and whether they can best be delivered in existing facilities, DePaulis said. But it will not need to do a lot of fact-finding, because both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have compiled a lot of information. Thursday, Salt Lake County launched a comprehensive examination of homeless services, DePaulis said. "We will parallel what the county is doing," he said.
The commission, which is scheduled to meet six times between Monday and November, likely will break into smaller groups that meet more often to tackle various tasks, DePaulis said. The 28-member body also will seek input from the homeless population, added Jill Remington Love, Becker's deputy chief of staff, who maintained the makeup of the commission is a "good cross-section" of community leaders. Among them are homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini and Kathy Bray of the Volunteers of America.
"We are not trying to ship them out or hide them. We are trying to serve them," Love said of the homeless population. "Anyone who lives or works in that area knows there is room for betterment."
Here is the list of homeless commission members:
Pioneer Park Coalition
Source: Salt Lake City