Salt Lake City Council to hear updates, solutions for future of downtown homeless shelter

Posted at 9:47 PM, Jan 19, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- On any given day in Salt Lake City, a long line forms just off Rio Grande Street, waiting for a hot meal or some temporary shelter.  It's a visual the area has become accustomed to in recent years, but one that could be changing.

"Right now, it's not a safe community," said Scott Howell, co-chair of the Pioneer Park Coalition.

The coalition is a nonprofit, aimed in part at addressing homeless issues in the area and how they are impacting businesses and residents.

"Right now, it's not a safe community. It's one that verges on the edge of wantonness, lawlessness," Howell said. "And again, it goes back to this notion, are we doing the best we can for our brothers and sisters who unfortunately are homeless, at this point and time?"

Those concerns prompted Salt Lake City to establish a commission, comprised of prominent business leaders and state officials, to evaluate the shelter and nearby services.

The goal is to determine how to improve them, either onsite or in an entirely new location.

On Tuesday, council members will receive a brief update on the concerns and possible solutions.

"It can't just be done by moving a facility. You've got to look at the counseling, the case management," said community advocate, Pamela Atkinson.

Atkinson is serving as a member of the commission. She believes any plan to move the shelter must address what will happen to nearby resources, such as the St. Vincent de Paul dining room and Fourth Street Clinic.

"I think we have to look at what each agency provides in terms of service," Atkinson said. "But then I think we have to look at how do they work together, how do they function together?"

The commission meets for the first time on Jan. 26, the first of six meetings.  They hope to have a concrete plan by the end of the year.

"I think it's a little premature to talk about relocating," Howell said. "What about rebuilding? And making it a safer, secure environment?"

The city council's work session starts at 2 p.m. and the formal meeting will follow at 7 p.m.