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Salt Lake City leaders say decision on homeless shelter sites set in concrete

First Published      Last Updated Jan 05 2017 09:10 pm

The land purchases are expected to keep the project on track for more state funding.

The decision is final. There is no going back, whether residents and businesses like it or not.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the City Council on Tuesday announced locations in Salt Lake City as the future sites of four 150-bed homeless shelters that also would serve as resource centers for their clients.

They are: 653 E. Simpson Ave. (2300 South), 275 W. High Ave. (1400 South), 131 E. 700 South, 648 W. 100 South.

The city spent $9.7 million for the Simpson Avenue and High Avenue parcels. It has an option on the 700 South property that is presently a Deseret Industries store owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The parcel at 648 W. 100 South is owned by the city's Redevelopment Agency.

The selections come out of a two-year process, but the public had no voice in choosing sites for the shelters, expected to be built in the next 24 months.

The mayor and council, who said they made decisions behind closed doors to keep from pitting neighborhoods against one another, will host a series of public engagement workshops to gather feedback on potential community impacts and suggestions for mitigating them.

Based on initial reactions in some of the neighborhoods, the elected leaders are in for some spirited pushback.

Biskupski said Tuesday's announcement signals a new era in providing services for the homeless.

The relatively small shelter/resource centers will provide comprehensive services for homeless people, including mental health, substance-abuse treatment and job-skills training — and will reduce the pressure and chaos around The Road Home shelter in downtown Salt Lake City, which is expected to be phased out and closed.

Green Street Avenue resident Patricia Thomas lives near the Simpson Avenue location and appeared shocked at the news of a coming shelter.

"Wow. It kind of gives me pause, the problems they're having around Pioneer Park," she said. "I don't want it to turn out like the Rio Grande Cafe. This has always been a real nice place."

The operators of The Lit'l Scholars Learning Center preschool at 653 E. Simpson said they had no idea the property had been sold.

"We were taken by surprise regarding the city's announcement of our building location being one of the four new homeless shelters. Neither the building owner nor the city discussed this with us or the president of the company," the center said in a statement.

"We are very disappointed and feel it was derelict of the city to make this announcement without contacting us and blindsiding our business and our families.

"We are under lease with the building owner until December 31, 2019, and have no plans of moving."

Michael Abouzelof, an employee of the Metro Music Hall which is undergoing renovations near the planned 648 W. 100 South homeless shelter, said the city's unilateral decision-making leaves a bad taste — creating an impression of neglecting existing businesses by not including them in the planning.

"I don't think any of this was based upon the well-being of the homeless. … I think it's completely based upon the well-being of the developers," he said, referring to those seeking to revive the Rio Grande area around the existing shelter.

City officials say the 150-bed shelters will have a minimal impact on neighborhoods and that security is a top priority. No drug dealing will be tolerated near the planned facilities, the mayor assured.

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