Homeless shelter commission conducts first meeting

Posted at 10:11 PM, Jan 26, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- Inside a packed room at the Salt Lake City Library was a crowd with seemingly little common interests.

Sitting at the center was the board chairman of the billion dollar Miller Corporation, listening intently. Standing at the front was the executive director of the city’s homeless shelter.

Together, they will figure out how to best address the city’s most at-risk residents.

“How can we get together to make that happen?” asked former Salt Lake City mayor, Palmer DePaulis.

DePaulis is co-chairing the commission, along with Gail Miller of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.

The 30-member group is comprised of government officials, service providers, business owners and residents.

Monday, they all met at the library for the first of six scheduled meetings, where they began to discuss the future of the city’s The Road Home shelter.

“We don’t want to leap up ahead and start talking about should it move or shouldn’t it move,” DePaulis said. “We just think that’s the wrong way to proceed.”

The issue centers on the growing homeless population in the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande area.  The shelter and nearby food and health services are all located in the area, however, so are many shops, restaurants and residents.

The commission is charged with figuring out how to balance both, but no one would say what they thought should be done during the two-hour meeting.

“When we invest thoughtfully together, as I hope this commission will and I expect that it will, we can create more opportunities that will help people sleep better at night,” said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of the shelter.

But concern is already growing about what some members of the commission will decide in the end.

“I think that their whole goal is to move the homeless shelter. People who live downtown don’t want to see it there anymore and they’re looking at other options,” said Salt Lake City councilman James Rogers.

Last week, Rogers criticized the administration for not including a representative from his district, the city’s west side, on the commission.  In response, Rogers’ predecessor on the council was added to the commission roster, as well as another community member.

But because no council members are part of the group, Rogers is skeptical.

“I’ve had realtors approach me that I work with and they say, ‘Hey, did you know that there are a couple of locations on the west side that they’re looking at?’ My constituents are worried,” Rogers said.

According to DePaulis, the commission is not looking at any specific sites as of yet.  The focus right now is not on what everyone’s position is on the shelter, but what they are interested in changing.

“Safety, that’s something that comes up time and time again,” DePaulis said. “'If we can have this conversation about what satisfies your best interest, we think we`re going to get a lot more people coming together on whatever side of the issues they`re on.”

The commission will meet again in March as a whole, but plan to convene in smaller groups in the interim.

Over the course of their meetings, there will be at least two public comment hearings.