Residents in an eastside Salt Lake City neighborhood are pushing back against an assisted living center for sick homeless people, billed as “hospice for the homeless.”
The INN Between, which opened in 2015 in a former school near 400 South and 1000 West, announced earlier this month that it plans to relocate to an existing rehabilitation home near 1300 East and 1300 South and accept more patients.
Now neighbors of the future site say administrators of the care center haven’t been forthcoming about the number of patients, its licensure or the types of treatment it’s offering to homeless people.
“Originally we were told this was a hospice. Not bad, except it is not hospice, it is housing for medically ill homeless,” said April Normandie-Harry, who lives near the new site.
Residents in the 13th and 13th neighborhood are meeting 6 p.m. Thursday at Tracy Aviary with Kim Correa, executive director of INN Between, city councilwoman Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Community Development Manager Karen Wiley.
Correa acknowledged in an interview that only about a third of the 16 beds at the present site are filled with terminally-ill patients seeking palliative care. About another third are cancer patients, who can’t undergo debilitating treatments like chemotherapy and radiation if they are on the street, Correa said.
The remainder are short-term patients who don’t require inpatient hospital care but still need regular treatment for wounds, infections and other maladies.
“The word ‘hospice’ is a safe haven for anybody,” Correa said. “In medical terminology, hospice is end-of-life care, pretty strictly defined as the last six months of life. In our case, hospice is really our primary focus but we also take any homeless individual who is having a serious medical issue and needs to be off the street. ... People get really hung up on this, and they’re looking for something that’s unethical. They’re grasping for straws. It’s a semantic issue.”
Neighbors said it’s more than a semantic issue; if anyone with a health problem can stay at the site, it becomes a de facto homeless shelter, Normandie-Harry said.
“I didn’t buy my house to live down the street from a homeless shelter,” she said.
Correa disputed that characterization, noting that all of the patients come with a medical referral, most directly from a hospital, and the INN Between doesn’t provide psychiatric or addiction treatment.
“I know that a lot of the neighbors ... have a fear that our new street will look like Rio Grande,” Correa said, referring to the downtown street where Salt Lake City’s growing homeless population has centered.
“We’ve been operating in our current building ... [since 2015,] and it doesn’t at all. Our folks are typically not feeling well, they’re indoors,” she said. “They typically don’t get visitors. They’re estranged from families; their former friends on streets don’t take time to come visit them.”
But neighbors questioned whether the current operation would accurately predict conditions at the new site, where the projected number of patients keeps getting higher.
“The original pamphlet said it was going to be 25 homeless people in hospice care,” said Normandie-Harry, who received a letter last month from The INN Between, promising less traffic and parking congestion than the 121-bed rehabilitation home operating at the site now.
But in a Tribune article days later, Correa disclosed plans to expand to 46 patients. Then, in a news release, the nonprofit announced a long-term goal of 75 patients.
“They’re proposing at least 70 people, [up] from 16, and they’ve been in business for two years,” said neighbor Lori Leighton. “They don’t even know what they’re talking about.”
A city ordinance now caps INN Between’s head count at 25 patients. But Correa has applied for an exception, which would allow it to rise.
“I [expect] to fill up to the 25-bed capacity quickly,” Correa said.
Neighbor Kelly Watson said the INN Between should have been upfront about its plans to expand and to treat recovering patients as well as terminal patients.
“There’s no transparency,” Watson said.
She pointed to letters from residents near the present site, collected by the city in 2017 when administrators last reviewed the facility’s patient limit. Those residents raised similar concerns that the INN Between was trying to grow beyond the small hospice facility it had initially promoted to its neighbors.
“The Inn Between has been dishonest with our community from the beginning, promising this would be a small shelter for the terminally ill who would otherwise die in the streets,” wrote one resident near the present site at 340 Goshen St., according to city records.
One neighbor at the existing site said she walked by the center daily and didn’t know it was a “homeless hospice.”
“I have never seen or heard anything inappropriate on the property” that resident wrote.
But another said that patients’ prolonged smoke breaks made their adjacent backyard unusable and that one patient died outside, in view of her children.
“The truth is simple, no one wants a homeless shelter near their home,” she wrote, adding, presciently: “As we know, Sugar House, the Avenues, Federal Heights, and the Harvard-Yale areas would all fight to keep shelters out of their areas despite being heavily liberal communities.”
For her part, Normandie-Harry said she wouldn’t object to the original plan.
“At this point, I think we’d all be OK with 25 hospice patients,” she said.