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Homeless coalition reevaluating options after shelters put on hold in SLC

Posted at 7:04 PM, Oct 05, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — In between the buzz and bustle of construction projects on 900 South near 200 West, are other new projects completed by Atlas Architects.

They've worked on several buildings within sight of their own office ever since they moved into an open concept space eight years ago.

"It's been really exciting to be part of a neighborhood being created in real time," said Jesse Hulse, one of the principals at Atlas Architects.

And it's still developing, in real time.

But lately, that has included controversy after Ballpark community members found out the Utah Homelessness Council approved a plan to purchase the Volunteers of America detox center at 252 Brooklyn Avenue and turn it into a homeless overflow shelter.

The $3 million for the purchase was set to come from the sale of the Road Home shelter downtown. The nonprofit Shelter the Homeless would have purchased the building.

READ: Ballpark residents blindsided by new homeless overflow shelter plans

"I think the detox center has been a good neighbor," Hulse explained of the VOA facility. "And nobody seems to have a problem with the detox center."

He and others saw an overflow shelter as an entirely different situation for that building and surrounding area.

"Adding one more shelter to the neighborhood felt like — for a neighborhood that's already at a tipping point — that that would just set us on a path to no return, much like what they faced in the Rio Grande neighborhood with the Road Home shelter," he explained.

Ballpark residents have pointed out in community council meetings that the area already houses two resource centers: the Geraldine E. King Women's Resource Center at 131 E. 700 South, and the Gail Miller Resource Center at 242 W. Paramount Avenue.

Plus, the VOA's Homeless Youth Resource Center is at 888 S. 400 West. Some have shared worries that the youth resource center will be too close to the proposed overflow shelter.

Following neighborhood outcry, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced Monday night in a Ballpark community meeting that she's halting all permanent shelters, for now.

The mayor signed a request for a petition that prohibits any new permanent shelters in the city for the next six months.

READ: SLC Ballpark overflow shelter could kill housing project, developer says

“Salt Lake City, and more specifically, certain districts in the City, bear a higher responsibility than other municipalities in the State to provide shelter and services to the State’s homeless population," Mendenhall wrote in a statement released Tuesday. "And now is a crucial time for us to pause and chart a new, more balanced path forward in our plans for how those services take shape within the City."

Mayor Mendenhall added that by "taking this step my goal is to help ensure that as a City we are more prescriptive in the process that would allow any new permanent shelters to operate within Salt Lake City.”

The city will look at amending zoning ordinances, which could include modifying conditional use permit standards for homeless shelters or homeless resource centers, as well as potentially distinguishing between temporary overflow homeless shelters, permanent homeless shelters and homeless resource centers.

It would also potentially allow temporary overflow homeless shelters in certain zones.

According to the mayor's office, the petition doesn't stop the city from being able to consider a potential temporary shelter location if a provider proposes one in a zone that currently allows homeless shelters.

Volunteers of America explained that they had planned to combine their administrative office and detox center into one larger facility in another location upon selling the building.

"Volunteers of America, Utah has been committed to providing solutions to social problems including homelessness, addiction, and mental illness in Salt Lake County for 35 years. Currently, there is an increasing demand for more overflow shelter beds and also detox services," Kathy Bray, the president and chief executive officer of VOA Utah, wrote to FOX 13. "We offered a potential solution that is generating significant community response. We are listening to our neighbors in the Ballpark and Central Ninth communities and are working, as part of the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, to reevaluate options based on the mayor's actions and community conversations we have had thus far."

“The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness recognizes and appreciates Salt Lake City's longstanding willingness to host the vast majority of homeless services in Utah. We agree that more permanent shelter in the city is not the solution,” Jean Welch Hill with the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness (SLVCEH) added in a statement to FOX 13.

SLVCEH, which proposed the plan, added that it is considering several options for the detox facility, including as a dedicated temporary overflow site during extreme temperatures.

READ: Salt Lake City mayor opposes proposed Ballpark homeless facility

“Our ultimate goal, however, is to eliminate the need for temporary overflow shelter through statewide and substantial investment in deeply affordable and permanent supportive housing,” Hill wrote.

Wayne Niederhauser, the state homeless coordinator for the Utah Homelessness Council, wrote to FOX 13 saying that at the state level, they will continue to support the planning process occurring at the regional level by the local homeless councils, like the SLVCEH.

"We will continue to work with the Coalition and cities in the county to identify overflow shelter solutions, which are essential for the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness during the winter," he wrote.

Hulse is relieved Mayor Mendenhall pumped the brakes. He clarified that he isn't against a temporary shelter when needed, but for him, there's a huge difference between a temporary shelter and permanent shelter.

"It's got to be fair to all the neighborhoods of Salt Lake," he said. "Not just Ballpark taking on everything."