There has been a renewed focus on conditions in the neighborhood surrounding Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park in the past few months. Developers, business owners, social service providers and residents, both homeless and housed, have all expressed concern about crime, safety and quality of life in the area. A new coalition has emerged with private funding to bring people together on these issues.
While short-term solutions such as a redesign of the park, a reinvigorated police presence and additional outreach and services to homeless people are most welcome, we need to find long-term solutions that include people experiencing homelessness as part of our urban community. In recent years, service providers, government agencies, and nonprofit developers have successfully proven that the answer to homelessness is permanent housing with supportive services.
This "Housing First" concept works. At Crossroads Urban Center, we’ve seen people who were part of each day at our emergency food pantry disappear, not as the result of a miracle, but because they now have real homes in places like Palmer Court, Grace Mary Manor, Sunrise Metro and the Kelly Benson Apartments. Other formerly homeless residents of our city live in housing scattered throughout the area and no longer need to spend their days in limbo on the streets. They have places to be safe like most of the rest of us – homes.
As a result, Salt Lake’s principal homeless shelter, The Road Home, no longer has a waiting list for single men who need a place to stay. Furthermore, by focusing on moving chronically homeless people out of the shelter system, homeless service providers now have more resources to devote to getting temporarily homeless people off the streets faster.
As we consider the future of the Pioneer Park area, we should resist the temptation to invest in new warehouses for homeless people. While shelters are necessary, focusing on building new facilities somewhere else is a waste of valuable resources that could be spent on permanent housing. Relocating emergency services is extremely expensive, especially when we already have perfectly adequate facilities in close proximity to one another in a neighborhood setting. We have a unique opportunity to create a new kind of urban neighborhood. One that includes both rich and poor.
In 2003, Mayor Rocky Anderson and the Salt Lake City Council endorsed a document called "Common Ground." This statement says in part, "The City declares its intention to support the collaborative professional social service community that exists in this area as new investment in business, housing and public infrastructure continues to transform the neighborhood." In fact, it’s worth remembering that The Road Home and St. Vincent DePaul’s Dining Room both pre-date the Gateway shopping center by well over a decade.
Homeless people in our community should not be considered a nuisance to be relocated to the next worst place. They live here and are part of our city. We can do better by investing the resources we have in housing. That’s the smart solution to homelessness and relieving the pressure on the Pioneer Park area in the future.
Glenn Bailey is the Executive Director of Crossroads Urban Center, a nonprofit, social service provider in Salt Lake City.
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