Here’s where Salt Lake City’s new ‘temporary shelter’ is going

The site will temporarily serve up to 50 people this winter but will eventually move to a new location selected by the state.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Officials announce the location of a legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

Salt Lake City announced Thursday that an undeveloped lot on the corner of 300 South and 600 West near the Utah Transit Authority’s Central Station will serve as a “temporary shelter community” for unhoused people this winter until a more permanent location is found.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall along with state Homelessness Services Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser, Salt Lake City Council member Victoria Petro and Utah Transit Authority board chair Carlton Christensen announced the highly anticipated location.

The land will accommodate up to 50 people with “compassion and humanity,” Mendenhall said at the news conference. The hope is that the pods will provide a needed alternative to unsheltered people living on the streets who don’t want to go to typical shelters that provide “dorm-style beds.” From there, staffers will work to get them into permanent housing.

“It’s never been as simple as finding a piece of land and saying ‘have at it,’” the mayor said. “Success means security for the residents and for the surrounding community, and to ensure that the sites don’t become magnets for crime and exploitation.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The site of a future legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

The new “shelter community” comes as Salt Lake City — and greater Utah — faces a deepening affordable housing crisis and the number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time is on the rise. In 2022 alone, 8,637 people in Utah became homeless for the first time. Housing markets are the least affordable in state history. The state’s median home sales price is more than six times greater than its median household income, according to recent data shared by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

Salt Lake City is providing $500,000 for the initial operations of the pilot project. The state is procuring the “pods” and set aside $1 million to study and create the permanent version of the shelter community. Mendenhall emphasized that the project was possible only because of state support.

Rather than tents, the state will purchase “podlike” units with locking doors, electricity and heating and cooling capabilities. Niederhauser estimated the pods would cost between $10,000 and $15,000 each. According to the city, there will be 24-hour support staff on-site and increased “patrol” of the area.

City and state leaders did not announce who would be running the temporary shelter but said a request for proposals would go out in the next week.

Other cities in the Mountain West have turned to sanctioned camping as a temporary solution to providing safer spaces for unsheltered populations. In Denver, the Safe Outdoor Spaces program serves 150 people in three camps across the city. That program had a $5 million budget.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ashley Gomez sits amongst her belongings after being forced to pack up her tent up on Rio Grande Street, on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

Attending the news conference was Donald Vogt, who said he had been homeless five times and implied that 50 spots wouldn’t be enough for the thousands of individuals who are unsheltered throughout Salt Lake City.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Donald "The First Cowboy" Vogt asks a question as officials announce the location of a legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A no camping sign at the site of a future legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

“You’re telling me you’re going to give 50 people a place to live out of 7,500,” Vogt said. “Who is the one who is going to be doing the picking and choosing?”

“We totally agree that there’s not enough,” Mendenhall said, “and that there’s more than there were in 1983.”

She noted that the new shelter would not be a solution for everyone, but “it’s the beginning of a new service model that we haven’t ever seen in the state of Utah, and it’s on top of 600 shelter beds that we’ll be opening in November with the winter overflow plan.”

“This is something we’ve envisioned for quite some time,” Niederhauser said, “and had been planning on it for over a year.”

This spring, the pods will be moved to a new location selected and run by the state.

“These units are mobile, so we’ll be able to take them from here and move them to the more permanent side,” Niederhauser said. “We’ll also, as the Office of Homeless Services, work to create long-term funding for operations.”

The location of the temporary shelter is a block away from the Rio Grande Station and an area called the “island,” where unsheltered people already camp. It is also across the way from the Central Station, where Amtrak, FrontRunner and TRAX lines converge. The temporary shelter will operate at the location for 180 days.

The lot is in council member Alejandro Puy’s district, which includes Fairpark, Glendale and Poplar Grove, as well as parts of downtown.

“We want this to be a success to prove that this is a solution for those who are experiencing homelessness, instead of being pushed from one corner to another,” Puy said. “I’m hoping that this site is a safe place where people can start rebuilding their lives.”

Homelessness is a major issue in the campaign for Salt Lake City mayor. Former Mayor Rocky Anderson, Mendenhall’s main rival in the race, was skeptical of Thursday’s announcement.

“The answer is not a bunch of expensive pods for 30 to 50 people and call it a pilot project,” Anderson said, “after all these years of this homelessness and affordability crisis.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks as officials announce the location of a legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.