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Latest hearing on Utah homeless shelters includes accusations, name calling

First Published      Last Updated Mar 23 2017 11:09 am

County mayor decides Wednesday’s hearing will not be final chance for public input.

Residents of South Salt Lake and West Valley City struck a desperate, pleading tone during what they thought was their last opportunity to dissuade leaders from siting a homeless shelter in their communities.

Hundreds lined up at the state Capitol to voice concerns to a 16-member committee that has until March 30 to weigh seven sites identified by the county and recommend one for a new shelter.

In the hallway, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, suggested to those waiting to speak that Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams should let that deadline pass without issuing a recommendation.

Lane Morris, director of the West Valley City Housing Authority, told the committee the situation — choosing between two west side, already burdened cities — recalled for him a junior high school bully who used to ask his fellow students which arm they'd like to be punched in.

"That's exactly how this feels here today," Morris said.

As it turned out, Wednesday's public hearing would not be the last chance for public input, McAdams decided after the hearing.

A purchase agreement was only just reached Wednesday for a fourth South Salt Lake site at 3432 S. 900 West, and McAdams said another forum will be held Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. for comments specific to that site and another one at 3380 S. 1000 West that was announced earlier this week.

He told attendees earlier that while "to most people here tonight, it does seem that this is out of the blue," he has spent more than 2 1/2 years trying to understand what needs to be done to reduce area homelessness — though conceded that he didn't begin to rate any county sites until mid-February, given that the previous plan called for four sites within Salt Lake City borders.

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood began the hearing by repeating her claim that a developer told her the county favors one of the two newly proposed sites and wondered aloud if there was any point "if the site has already been chosen behind closed doors."

She and other residents and business owners in the town of 24,000 ran through the list of regional services already located in South Salt Lake, and Wood choked up as she concluded by saying "We can no longer be the city that gets all of the unwanted government facilities."

West Valley City has vowed to sue or refuse to cooperate with service providers should the county recommend one of three proposed sites there. It's home to the county's largest share of affordable housing, outside of Salt Lake City, and has done its share, leaders reiterated before blasting the county for refusing to solicit their opinion.

"It should not be a fight with winners and losers," said Mayor Ron Bigelow. "It should be a process of compromise, if done correctly."

Roughly 200 attendees filled every seat in a stuffy Senate Building conference room while overflow crowds listened in smaller conference rooms on either side.

Many fanned their faces with fliers handed out at the entrance. Some parents held their children, swaying and rocking them to keep the quiet.

The committee — most of whom listened studiously and took notes — agreed to hear comments well beyond the scheduled two hours.

McAdams urged listeners to hold their applause so more people could speak, but at times they could not be restrained. Particularly well-received were suggestions that McAdams site a shelter in his own neighborhood, or at least in more affluent areas of the county.

Ryan Christensen, who works in aerospace and defense contracting at Christensen Industries, said customers like Boeing and Lockheed Martin regularly audit his business and already have problems with the vagrancy associated with an 88-bed permanent supportive housing facility at Grace Mary Manor. His employees are often chased to their cars, he said.

"If this is approved, we will leave, and we will leave the county," Christensen said.

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