Salt Lake City selects four new homeless shelter sites

Posted at 1:32 PM, Dec 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-14 09:44:49-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Mayor Jackie Biskupski and members of the City Council have unveiled the four sites for new shelters in the city.

The four sites are:

  • 653 E. Simpson Ave. (2300 South)
  • 275 W. High Ave. (1400 South)
  • 131 E. 700 South
  • 648 W. 100 South

The homeless shelter site selection comes after months of closed-door negotiations between Salt Lake City and property owners, including one real-estate deal that closed on Monday. City hall staffers said they began examining 20 potential sites, whittled it down to 11 scattered across town and finally the four.

The mayor's office said the Simpson Ave. and High Ave. properties cost taxpayers $9.7 million. The city is purchasing the 700 South property (currently a Deseret Industries store) from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although a final price hasn't been settled on. The city's redevelopment agency owns the land on 100 South.

People outside the Road Home shelter in downtown Salt Lake City. (FOX 13 file image)

People outside the Road Home shelter in downtown Salt Lake City. (FOX 13 file image)

Properties in strictly residential areas were excluded, but the shelters are zoned in "mixed use" areas, meaning a mix of commercial, multi-family and residential. Criteria for the shelters were if they would not be conducive to the drug trade, close to transportation, easy access to social services and integration into a larger neighborhood.

The new shelters are part of an overall approach to a "scattered site" model, breaking up the drug trade and crime that has infested the Rio Grande neighborhood. However, the sites that are selected are where the shelters will be. Cries of "not in my backyard" are anticipated, but the mayor said it was her hope that people would see the new designs of the shelter and its more localized service and accept them.

"When we get to the service what we have inside these buildings it will be so different than what we have today that people will just not be experiencing what they see," Mayor Biskupski said in an interview with FOX 13.

Watch the entire news conference here:

The problems plaguing the Rio Grande neighborhood have become the face of homelessness in Utah, with rampant drug use and crime in the area. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, has two of the new shelters in her district. She said she was supportive of them, but added it's up to the state to keep funding mental health and substance abuse treatment to keep people from going back into the shelters.

"How do we ensure that we fund and have proper services for these facilities moving ahead?" Rep. Romero said. "And ensure they're not just in Salt Lake City or Salt Lake County but throughout the state."

The Utah State Legislature approved $27 million in funding for new shelters and social services. Salt Lake City Council Chairman James Rogers said a lot money is also going to affordable housing.

"That is key to making sure people can afford to get in a place to live," he said Tuesday. "That's why they're out on the street."

Homeless outside the Road Home shelter in downtown Salt Lake City. (FOX 13 file image)

Homeless outside the Road Home shelter in downtown Salt Lake City. (FOX 13 file image)

The city promises to hold community workshops to determine the look of the shelters, as well as determining what population will go in which location. The City Council has pushed for small, 150-bed shelters for single men, families, as well as women and children.

Acknowledging that some people will not be happy with having a homeless shelter in their neighborhood, the mayor encouraged people to engage the city in how it looks and who it services.

"I want people who have any concern to show up at the design meetings so they can ask questions and get solid responses about their concerns," she said.

In separate interviews with FOX 13, two members of the Salt Lake City Council outlined who would go to which shelter. Councilwoman Lisa Adams, whose district includes Sugar House, said she had received assurances for her support that the Simpson Ave. shelter would have a "low impact population," like single mothers or women.

Councilman Charlie Luke said he believed Sugar House should get women or women and children, while the Gateway area shelter (on 100 South) would get couples, small families, LGBTQ people or those uncomfortable staying in larger shelters. The remaining two sites would house single men. Luke said no final decisions had been made, but that was his preferences.

The mayor said in Tuesday's news conference that no decisions had been made on whether the shelters would have thresholds for people (meaning some would not accept those with a substance abuse history, etc.) but service providers would make that determination.

The 1,300-bed Road Home shelter on Rio Grande will close once the new shelters are built, but the new sites will not have the same occupancy rate. In a statement, the shelter said it will continue to operate elsewhere in the valley.

"While the City and County plans are being developed and until the need is met in a new way, we will continue to provide shelter at the Salt Lake Community Shelter location. However, The Road Home is much more than the shelter located on Rio Grande Street. We continue to operate the Midvale Shelter for families, as well as our housing facilities including Wendell Apartments and Palmer Court," the group said. "The need for shelter continues to be great in our community. We are operating at high demand for shelter during the winter months and are in much need of support."

The neighborhood where the Road Home shelter is currently in is slated for development.