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The public will not have a voice in selecting sites in Utah's capital city where four 150-bed homeless shelters will be built in the next year or two.
After a process spanning almost 24 months, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the City Council will reveal those locations on Nov. 21. It remains unclear whether the final four already have been chosen from a list of about a dozen possible sites discussed behind closed doors. Those potential locations have not been made public.
City Hall officials say residents have not been completely locked out of the process, noting that the mayor's 30-member site selection commission impaneled in December 2014 represents all segments of the community. Further, they say, the public was involved in creating criteria for the selection process.
After the announcement, the mayor and council will seek public comment on how to mitigate neighborhood impacts from the new shelters.
The overriding reason the mayor and council won't have public hearings before the decision-making is final, they say, is that it would pit neighborhoods against each other in a contest to keep the facilities out of their communities.
Council members are bracing for a public outcry once the sites have been made public.
"Any location that doesn't currently have a homeless shelter will not be thrilled about having a homeless shelter in their neighborhood," said Councilman Charlie Luke. "But it's an important decision and one that has to be made."
Nonetheless, a short-circuited process will hurt public trust in local government, according to community activist George Chapman.
"I think that is breaking a promise that was made many times nine months ago," he said of the private deliberations. "It's not a public process if the public doesn't have a choice."
In October, the council acting as the board of the city's' Redevelopment Agency earmarked $11.8 million for the purchase of four parcels.
Officials say the state will repay Salt Lake City as part of a $27 million proposal to build facilities and provide on-site services.
Earlier this year, the Legislature allocated $9.2 million that funding, however, has yet to be released. City and Salt Lake County officials are seeking similar grants for the next two years.
The initiative is aimed, in part, at reducing impacts surrounding The Road Home shelter downtown on Rio Grande Street.
Although County Mayor Ben McAdams has said new shelters and detox centers would eliminate the need for the Rio Grande Street shelter, that outcome seems unlikely. Presently, the downtown facility is at its capacity of 1,100. The Road Home's Midvale Family Shelter that houses 300, also is full.
The Midvale shelter twice the size of the proposed 150-bed shelters has minimal impact on its surroundings, according to Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini. But it is located in an industrial area.
Salt Lake City officials point to the YWCA-Utah Domestic Violence Shelter as an example of how such a facility can fit into a neighborhood. The building at 322 E. 300 South integrates well into its surroundings and houses about 200 women and children, said spokeswoman Annie Studer.
Such a comparison, of course, is not apples to apples with homeless shelters, particularly those that house only men. Nonetheless, city and county officials believe that the 150-bed facilities would not lead to the chaos seen downtown. Unlike the crowds milling about Rio Grande Street and 500 West near 200 South, miscreants lurking around the smaller facilities will be much more visible, discouraging illegal activity.
Still, Chapman believes public safety will be a challenge surrounding any new facility.
Space is so limited at the Salt Lake County Jail, he said, that police are reluctant to make arrests that don't involve felonies.
"How do you provide public safety," Chapman asked, "when the jails are full?"
No date has yet been set for public comments on the site selections.