Local city leaders brace for a homeless shelter they’re powerless to stop

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 02:38 pm

Homelessness » Bill would provide no out for city that could be chosen to house “a little north of 300” beds.

One Salt Lake County community will soon become home to a shelter that it hadn't counted on a month ago.

It might wind up being the state's largest homeless facility after the planned closure of a shelter at 210 S. Rio Grande St. It might house the population most associated with violent crime: men. And municipal officials might not have any choice but to roll out the welcome mat.

Majority Whip Francis Gibson's HB441 would allow the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee to trump zoning and other city ordinances when it sites a county shelter March 30.

That's a "clear preemption of generally accepted land-use responsibilities," said Roger Tew, interim director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

But though the League spoke with Gibson about its concerns, Tew said it maintained a "tactical" silence during a committee presentation of HB441 because "this is clearly a leadership position."

"Sometimes you're faced with certain political inevitabilities," he said.

Gibson's bill, which partially funds a Salt Lake City and County collaboration to build three shelters, has the backing of both House and Senate leadership.

Meanwhile, some county municipal leaders are bracing for a light-speed site selection process that will include public input on finalists but will result in a county recommendation and a state decision about one city's land.

"I'm not going to like it," said Murray Council Chairwoman Diane Turner. "I don't know many cities that will like it, because it takes any governance out of our hands."

West Jordan Mayor Kim Rolfe said land use should be determined by a municipality and that "to have no say in where it's located or anything about the land use, I think, is problematic."

Public comments from Gibson and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski suggested that the county's facility will shelter single men while the city's two facilities host female and gender-segregated populations widely thought to be less prone to crime and thus more palatable to nearby residents.

Gibson wrote by text message Monday that the city's shelters would be 200 beds and "the facility in the county is envisioned to be larger" — "probably a little north of 300."

He later clarified that shelter size and demographics wouldn't be finalized until the county had chosen and weighed the specific merits of a third site, and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said Wednesday that some of the sites under consideration are better suited to other demographics.

Gibson said his provision to cut out city government paved the only realistic path forward, given the remote chance that an official would volunteer their city for a shelter.

It's not an unprecedented move. Last year, as the Legislature contemplated its first round of an eventual $27 million in homeless funding, lawmakers compelled Midvale to keep open year-round a 300-bed family shelter that its council had ordered closed for a portion of each year.

Proponents of leaders' retooled homeless vision — which last month cut the capital city's share from four shelters to two — have repeatedly credited Midvale for "stepping up" or "raising its hand."

But Mayor JoAnn Seghini said the shelter's proximity to a rail yard makes it a "terrible location" and that she hopes its nonprofit owners will eventually sell the building and choose a better location.

That shelter has attracted "a whole bunch of wanderers," she said, and increasing numbers of people seem to be camping by the Jordan River.

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Public feedback schedule

Salt Lake County has scheduled the following three opportunities for the public to give feedback on possible shelter sites. On Tuesday, March 28, its Site Evaluation Committee is slated to deliberate from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the state Capitol (350 State St.) in Senate Room 210. Its recommendation to the State Homeless Coordinating Committee is due March 30.

Tuesday, March 14 » From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., an open house will be held at the state Capitol (350 State St.) in the Senate Building cafeteria

Saturday, March 18 » From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., an open house will be held at the state Capitol (350 State St.) in the Senate Building cafeteria

Wednesday, March 22 » From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the Site Evaluation Committee will meet and invite public comment at the state Capitol (350 State St.) in Senate Room 210.