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SLC leaders ‘frustrated’ as town again resorts to temporary shelter for winter homeless people


Cars parked outside the Ramada Inn in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. The site was chosen as an emergency homeless shelter this winter. (KSL-TV)

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SALT LAKE CITY – Leaders in the Utah capital are not happy that the city has once again been chosen to house an emergency winter shelter.

Salt Lake City Council, in a meeting Tuesday, reluctantly approved the Ramada Inn at 1659 W. North Temple as the site of a temporary 250-bed overflow this winter. Officials from the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness said the temporary facility will be a “safe, 24-hour, no-congregation environment” that will allow homeless people to escape the cold this winter.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall explained that the county coalition had selected the site and asked Salt Lake City to approve the use of an emergency shelter.

Although they recognized the need for the shelter, what upset the mayor and several members of the city council is that the city was wiretapped by the state for the three years that a shelter d urgency was needed following the decision to close The Road Home.

“I am frustrated by the disproportionate and largely unsupported efforts Salt Lake City is making to the statewide homelessness crisis,” Mendenhall said, moments before the council vote on Tuesday. “My frustration seems equal to that of City Council, where today’s discussion reflected a waning desire to permanently house the vast majority of services in this county without the financial support that should accompany that service.”

This winter’s shelter will be the second in a row to be found on the west side of town, an area Salt Lake City Councilor Ana Valdemoros called “the already stressed part of town.” She said police and firefighters requested more staff and overtime, and apologized for not being able to answer every call.

Valdemoros argued that a recent report that a homeless shelter was not feasible in other Utah towns and unincorporated areas of the county is an example that Salt Lake City has been pushed “into a corner” and ashamed if he didn’t open an emergency shelter.

Salt Lake City Councilor Victoria Petro-Eschler, who was sworn in last week and represents the area in which the shelter will be located, agreed. She added that she was concerned about issues that could arise for residents and small businesses near the emergency shelter.

“Asking the city to shoulder this burden once is an emergency. Having been asked multiple times now, with the west side significantly targeted, is a model,” Petro-Eschler said. “This model should disqualify this type of emergency demand. It is more of a seasonal demand.”

The additional resources needed for the shelter are why Salt Lake City Councilor Darin Mano said he believes the state should help cover the city’s costs.

There were also concerns about the intended property for the shelter raised at the meeting. Nigel Swaby, chairman of the Fairpark Community Council, said he visited the site earlier today and was “in poor condition”. He said he saw fixtures and floor coverings stripped from some rooms; some had a toilet above the beds.

“It will cost a lot more money and take longer to bring this building up to code than the time needed to provide housing in this year’s overflow,” he said.

Alejandro Puy, who was confirmed as the winner of the Salt Lake City Council District 2 race earlier Tuesday, said he had also visited the “place of great concern”.

“This motel is run down and I’m very worried,” Puy said. “I don’t know who’s going to pay to fix and code the place, but it’s very, very concerning – the state of it.”


At the end of the day, I don’t think we, as a group of elected officials, can have people potentially to freeze to death on the streets of our city.

–Chris Wharton, Salt Lake City Councilor


While city leaders and residents were not happy with the position they have been placed in, they also know time is running out. Temperatures in Salt Lake City fell below freezing overnight; the National Weather Service noted these are the coldest temperatures recorded in the city since the end of March. It’s a reminder that winter is fast approaching.

At the same time, the existing permanent shelters in Salt Lake County are already filling up. Andrew Johnston, the city’s director of homeless policy and outreach, told council in a working session earlier Tuesday that use of homeless shelters is “quite high,” at 97% in all areas.

Mendenhall recently posted a six-month hiatus on creating any new permanent shelter in the city, again explaining on Tuesday that the city “hosts far more than its fair share of homeless services” in the state. However, she added that she “intentionally” allowed an avenue to open for temporary overflow facilities because she believed residents would rather have temporary shelter in their city than see the homeless. having “nowhere to go, freezing in our streets”.

It was this sentiment that persuaded five of the seven city councilors to vote in favor of the shelter. Salt Lake City Councilor Chris Wharton said the vote was “difficult”. On the one hand, the city will be burdened with an additional burden which could exacerbate the problems in its west side; on the other hand, it can lead to a “life and death” situation for many homeless people if the state does not have an emergency winter shelter.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think we, as a group of elected officials, can have people potentially frozen to death on the streets of our city,” Wharton said. “It’s a national epidemic, but… Salt Lake City is escalating and doing so every year because our residents appreciate and understand that this is a crisis that we must at least do our part and try to protect. . “

The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness said the new space will have “24/7 onsite security, shuttles to transport customers, meals and connections to other services.” It says there will be 300 overflow beds available until April 2022.

This figure includes motel coupons in other cities and rugs from the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Room and Weigand Homeless Resource Center.

“We know that there are many players involved in the development of these solutions and we are committed to being good partners to ensure we are providing consistent care to homeless people in collaboration with the surrounding community,” wrote the coalition in a press release. “We know the surrounding neighborhoods have faced a lot of pressures over the years and we look forward to working with the community as we serve our most vulnerable residents this winter. “

Meanwhile, Mendenhall says more needs to be done in the future so that Salt Lake City does not have to cover the costs of emergency shelter on its own. She said beds at homeless shelters should be distributed among other towns in the county and that Salt Lake City should secure “adequate” public funding for the public safety costs associated with running the shelter, which would otherwise fall on the city’s taxpayers.

Although frustrated with the process, the mayor said she still applauds the city council vote given the circumstances.

“This action will save lives,” she said. “But I know we all agree that the residents and businesses of Salt Lake City deserve a more balanced path forward.”

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion