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A nationally recognized and controversial homeless consultant said Salt Lake City already has a de facto homeless campus, but it is horribly dysfunctional, not strategically designed and works for no one.
Robert Marbut is a champion of the so-called campus or "mall approach," where all homeless services are contiguous to a shelter, so that clients have ready access to health care, counseling and job training, among other things.
He told an audience of about 100 on Thursday that he was appalled by some of the things he saw Wednesday when he toured the area around The Road Home shelter near the intersection of Rio Grande Street and 200 South. Among them was the commingling of families and single men, as well as a street and shelter layout that provides for a drive-thru drug market.
The town-hall style meeting was sponsored by the Pioneer Park Coalition.
Homelessness cannot be solved by large groups, Marbut said. Decision-making should be confined to one group of no more than 10 people "with no skin in the game" or a vested interest in the outcome.
Presently, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission is made up of 30 members, including politicians, business leaders, property owners and service providers exactly the kind of interests to whom Marbut was referring.
The Pioneer Park Coalition has more than 200 members. Its steering committee is made up largely of business interests. The coalition's numbers also include service providers and is open to anyone.
But, in an interview, Jill Remington Love, the city's director of community and economic development, said the mayor's commission has "the right people at the table."
"It's important to have stakeholders who are impacted," she said, "as well as [others who have] the ability to raise money."
Love said the city has no intent of hiring a consultant.
"He's their expert," she said, referring to Marbut and the Pioneer Park Coalition, "not our expert."
The question at the center of Salt Lake City's debate is whether the shelter and allied service providers should be moved away from the gentrifying Pioneer Park area.
Residents and business owners in the area say that problems surrounding homelessness, including crime, have increased during the past several years. That was the catalyst for the formation of the Pioneer Park Coalition, said its chairman, Scott Howell.
In turn, the coalition pushed for evaluation of homeless services. Becker formed his commission in December. Its recommendations are expected in November.
Such policymaking and implementation should not take years, Marbut said. Decision-makers should determine how to improve services at existing sites and then compare those costs to building new facilities elsewhere.
Among challenges facing Salt Lake City is that homeless services are offered by a variety of independent nonprofit groups and are not under a unified management, he said. Marbut credited those groups for their hard work and said they should be at the core of any new approach. But, he added, coordination must be centralized.
Marbut also has said that charity groups providing food and clothing enable homelessness rather than solve it.
A small group of demonstrators gathered outside the meeting to hold a "kindness protest," saying providing food and clothing for homeless people is the right thing to do.
Alice Griffin, a volunteer with the Crossroads Urban Center, said giving people food and socks and hats is not enabling homelessness. She added that segregating homeless people in an enclosed campus does not help them get back into the community.
Howell, the coalition chairman, invited the protesters inside for lunch so they could listen to Marbut's presentation.
Travis Hysell, executive director of The Legacy Initiative, which favors outreach to homeless people, said Marbut made some good points about better organization of services and pulling money and politics out of the decision on whether to move the shelter.
But Hysell added that although he shares some of Marbut's long-term goals, he disagrees with him on more immediate needs, such as providing food and clothing to those in crisis.
The Mayor's Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission meets Friday at 1:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of Salt Lake City's downtown library.