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Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski on Tuesday proposed spending $250,000 to activate the St. Vincent de Paul dining hall as an emergency winter shelter that would house up to 150 people.
The facility owned and operated by Catholic Community Services is directly across Rio Grande Street from The Road Home shelter and also is near the Wiegand Day Center. City officials are working with Catholic Community Services and The Road Home to identify funding, according to a statement from the mayor's office.
"Salt Lake City and [homeless] service providers are hopeful this overflow space will cover the needs of the population, as it has for the last few years," the statement said. "Last year, an average of 80 individuals used the space each night it was open."
The Road Home shelter downtown can house up to 1,100 people. The Road Home's Midvale family shelter can house an additional 300.
But officials are concerned that the homeless population has expanded. There appears to be a dramatic increase in homeless campers this year, particularly in the area between 200 South and 400 South along 500 West. With cold weather coming, officials fear that space at emergency shelters will be at a premium.
City Councilwoman Erin Mendehall said she fears that 150 additional beds will fall far short of the need for winter shelter space, noting that people have been camping all around the city in areas they where they haven't been before.
"Hoping that 150 beds is enough is not comforting to me," she said. "We have our heads in the sand if we don't think there is a significant need out there."
In November, city officials, in coordination with Salt Lake County and the Utah Department of Workforce Services, will seek additional population assessments and screening of homeless people. That will help service providers and city officials determine overflow needs, according to the statement.
If assessments indicate additional emergency space is needed beyond St. Vincent De Paul, the city will work with county and municipal leaders across the Wasatch Front to find additional shelter space.
"In order to appropriately serve those experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake during the winter months, it is critical Salt Lake City work collaboratively with the State of Utah, Salt Lake County and on-the-ground service providers," the statement said. "While the administration of Mayor Jackie Biskupski is confident that the existing emergency shelter plans in place are sufficient for the coming winter, we are implementing steps to ensure any additional needs are allocated based on sound data, and without setting additional precedent for the city."