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Editorial: Last homeless center site selection needs little more time

First Published      Last Updated Mar 14 2017 06:06 pm

We had one siting process for homeless resource centers that lasted most of last year. It was a circuitous path – sometimes private, sometimes public – that chose and then abandoned two sites while keeping two others. It was slow and painful to watch.

So how about we just rip off the Band-Aid for this last one?

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is earnest when he promises a "robust yet abbreviated" public process for locating the third homeless center somewhere in his county, but it's literally three weeks from the time people were told they might get a center to the time they actually get it. Clearly, abbreviated trumps robust.



It's the Utah Legislature's timetable —although McAdams admits he is willing — and it's largely the result of Salt Lake City taking most of last year trying to figure out its homeless siting plan, only to have it change in the first two weeks of this year.

Give McAdams credit for giving even this compressed process more credibility than the city's. He did have the advantage of having a whole county to work with, and, unlike the city, he didn't feel a need to integrate it with a residential neighborhood. All the possible sites are in industrial areas. Those two facts, along with the fact that he has full authority to overrule any city, make this a lot easier than the city's undertaking.

On Feb. 15, the day after the decision was made to locate a shelter in the county, McAdams had 10 possible sites. That was narrowed to five in less than a month, and the county then acquired options on all of them. Because all the sites were currently listed for sale, they played them against each other and, according to McAdams, got all five for less than asking price. Compare that to the city, where they didn't offer alternatives to the public and they seriously overpaid for their sites.

Still, it appears some area in South Salt Lake or West Valley City is going to get a homeless resource center forced on it, and people there have every right to feel like they didn't get a full process. McAdams doesn't rule out a late entry from elsewhere, but it would need to be exceptional to pass muster by the March 30 deadline. It will be McAdams' call. The Legislature has empowered him with the authority and cash to do it.

And, like the Salt Lake City neighborhoods absorbing centers, the center's new neighbors won't know exactly what they're getting. All parties agree the new centers are not just miniatures of the Rio Grande shelter, which sits in the eye of a neighborhood hurricane. The new centers will offer attentive and coordinated services to keep people's stays to a minimum. The promise is to fix people, not just warehouse them.

Given that it will be more than two years before we'll know if that works, it's worth more than three weeks for the neighbors to get up to speed on the concept. Can we buy another month to make sure we're grabbing the right Band-Aid?

 

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