This Utah city may get its first homeless shelter this winter

Temporary facility is part of a plan to have 600-plus new beds available by the time frigid temperatures hit.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A man experiencing homelessness pulls his belongings over railroad tracks in Salt Lake City in 2023. A new plan calls for putting a wintertime shelter in neighboring West Valley City.

A temporary homeless shelter could be coming to Utah’s second-largest city this year.

Plans submitted by Salt Lake Valley mayors to state officials last week include a proposal to set up a 170-bed shelter in West Valley City to keep homeless Utahns from freezing on the streets during the coldest months.

The shelter would be that city’s first and make up one slice of the 600-plus additional beds planned to come on line for the winter.

“Caring for those experiencing homelessness is a statewide concern,” first-term Mayor Karen Lang said at a news conference last week. “In West Valley City, we look after our neighbors, and we especially take care of them on those bitter nights and days.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) West Valley City Mayor Karen Lang joins other leaders from across Salt Lake County at Pioneer Park on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, to announce a homeless plan for winter has been submitted for approval.

Lang did not respond to interview requests Monday and Tuesday.

Local leaders called the news conference to announce that they had fulfilled their state-imposed obligation to craft a winter response plan for unhoused residents but stopped short of sharing any details about where the additional beds would go.

At the news conference, Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini, who co-chaired the task force that developed the plan, declined to share the locations of the expected overflow beds due to concerns about property issues that could crop up if details were publicized, not having the plan fully funded, and not wanting to “create a stir” in an area where a shelter may not actually open.

At a Council of Governments meeting last month, however, when he presented the plan to fellow leaders, Silvestrini said the blueprint called for a shelter in West Valley City but did not give the precise address.

“Some of us know it, we’ve toured it, but in the interest of giving Mayor Lang a head start to do some public engagement and get ahead of any concerns in her community,” Silvestrini said at the July 20 meeting, “without objection, we’re not going to identify the location of that facility.”

Reached for comment Tuesday, the Millcreek mayor lauded West Valley City for its willingness to help homeless Utahns.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini speaks during a news conference at Pioneer Park on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.

“I’m very happy that West Valley is taking this attitude that they’re willing to help,” he said. “It does show leadership, and these are difficult decisions for mayors and councils to make because of the public reaction to some of this stuff.”

Millcreek hosted a temporary shelter last year and, Silvestrini said, had a good experience with it.

For its part, West Valley City hasn’t always embraced the responsibility of having a shelter.

In 2017, as Utah began shifting from a centralized shelter model in downtown Salt Lake City to a model with smaller shelters spread across more areas, West Valley City leaders and residents clashed with Salt Lake County when then-county Mayor Ben McAdams proposed the state’s second largest city as the site of one of the new homeless resource centers.

That shelter ultimately landed in South Salt Lake.

In the July meeting, Silvestrini said members of the task force were confident the proposed West Valley City shelter could handle 170 people on a 24-hour basis.

Other parts of the plan — approved by the Council of Governments — called for St. Vincent de Paul in Salt Lake City’s Rio Grande area to add 65 beds and the three existing homeless resource centers to grow by a combined 175 beds.

Another 165 beds are due to come on line in Sandy at a new facility for the aging and medically vulnerable, and 50 more beds are slated at the Volunteers of America Utah detox center.

According to a copy of the plan, the combined winter homelessness response in Salt Lake County is expected to cost roughly $6.5 million. At the time of its approval by the local leaders, records show, the plan faced a budget shortfall of up to $4.1 million.

The coalition that drew up the proposal is not required by law to come up with a way to pay for it.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) State homelessness coordinator Wayne Niederhauser speaks during a news conference at Pioneer Park on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.

Officials in the state’s Office of Homeless Services, meanwhile, are staying tight-lipped on the West Valley City proposal until Thursday’s Utah Homelessness Council meeting.

“We aren’t prepared to talk about specific funding details,” spokesperson Sarah Nielson wrote in a text message, “because we are still in the review timeline (per statute) for the plan that was submitted to us.”

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