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Government, nonprofits spar over future of downtown shelter

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Salt Lake City's downtown homeless shelter is just weeks away from closing as the community pivots to a new model for homeless services, and advocates in the nonprofit sector say the city isn't ready. (Photo: KUTV)

Salt Lake City's downtown homeless shelter is just weeks away from closing as the community pivots to a new model for homeless services, and advocates in the nonprofit sector say the city isn't ready.

"When I look at the math, it doesn't add up," said Bill Tibbitts, the associate director at Crossroads Urban Center.

His nearly 20 years fighting homelessness tells him closing the shelter is a bad idea.

"Until we have a plan that actually looks realistic for keeping everybody indoors, it's too soon to close the shelter," he said.

Nearly three years ago, a large group of government and nonprofit stakeholders formed a plan to close the large centralized shelter in favor of three smaller ones that will serve specific populations.

Jonathan Hardy, who directs the state's division of housing, said funding for the plan is contingent on the downtown shelter closing.

"This decision was made 30 months ago and we've all been working toward this the whole time," he said.

A month after the three new shelters are open, the state intends to knock down the building and sell the property. They expect it to bring in more than $4 million, which will be applied toward additional homeless resources.

The government will be doing a housing blitz in the month of November in advance of the shelter switch, which they believe will put 50 to 60 people into permanent housing.

Hardy said the new arrangement will offer more beds than were needed on last year's busiest shelter night. They're confident no one will be left in the cold.

"We don't anticipate that," he said.

Tibbitts said the housing blitz in November is a good thing, but high turnover in the homeless population means demand for shelter will continue.

"One thing a lot of people don't understand about homelessness is that it's not — you don't see the same people everyday," he said. "If you get 100 people into housing a little bit faster than you would have before, for a week or two you'll have less people at the shelter."

Hardy says the nonprofit that operates the Road Home is moving to the South Salt Lake location. Without them, there'd be no staff or supplies to run the center. The human services community is more interested in getting people into long-term housing and believes that effort will lessen demand for emergency shelter in the long-term.

"Having an indefinite overflow shelter is not the right way to get people connected to housing," Hardy said.
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