Utah has its eye on a location for a permanent homeless camp. Here’s where.

No surprise: It’s in Salt Lake City.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The potential site of a legal homeless camp near Interstate 15 on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023.

All of those residents who have settled into their new digs at the temporary legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City will need to pack up and head out by the end of April, but they won’t have far to go if Utah’s homelessness czar gets his way.

State homelessness coordinator Wayne Niederhauser revealed this week that he wants to open the long-planned, more permanent legal camp on Utah Department of Transportation land west of 700 West, nestled between freeway ramps at 500 South in Salt Lake City.

Those surroundings may be familiar to those who live on the streets. The site, beneath freeway viaducts, often hosts makeshift homeless camps.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The camp, which would house individuals in the miniature shelters used at the temporary site operating at 300 South and 600 West, would aim to serve those who have resisted traditional shelters because they felt unsafe.

“Not that they weren’t safe,” Niederhauser said. “It’s just that, when you’re feeling high anxiety, sometimes being in a room with a lot of people might trigger some things. We’re going to see that these really will help create a better environment for regulation, personal regulation, and a feeling of safety rather than a congregate (shelter).”

He’ll need the Legislature’s blessing to do it.

Niederhauser said the governor’s proposed budget includes requests for one-time funding to build more permanent facilities, such as toilets, at the site. He is also requesting ongoing funding to pay for long-term operation of the camp — a price tag Niederhauser pegs at $2 million to $3 million a year.

Calls to create a sanctioned camp have grown in recent years as the population of Utahns experiencing homelessness continues to swell.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City’s first legal homeless camp on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. The temporary site is slated to operate through April 30.

A year ago, Niederhauser said he wanted to pursue a legal campground that used podlike shelters, not tents, to keep Utahns off the streets. Such units are being used at the camp currently operating in Salt Lake City. The 25 pods at that site can house two people each and feature private living spaces of about 75 square feet, lockable doors, heating and cooling units, electricity, and fold-up beds and tables.

Niederhauser wants to order enough of them to house 50 additional people at the permanent site, upping the total capacity to 100.

He said the plan for the new site is to include a facility where meals and services would be available. It would separate the two communities of microshelters, Niederhauser said, with 40 people living on one side and 60 on the other.

“We don’t want to concentrate too many [people] in one location,” he said. “It would be better to have several locations with a more moderate number.”

The existing legal campground is set to operate through April 30. Niederhauser said the state anticipates being able to start moving the pods over to the permanent site sometime in May to get people inside while improvements to the location are made.

Pulling off that plan, he said, would require securing the funding and nailing down a long-term contract with a service provider.

“We’ll be working on those things here in the next couple of months,” he said, “as we get through the legislative session.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The potential site of a legal homeless camp near Interstate 15 on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023.

Salt Lake City Council member Victoria Petro, a vocal advocate for creating a sanctioned campground, said the proposed permanent camp has a high chance of succeeding if it receives the right support from all levels of government.

“Putting it there without any support from the state, from the county, from the other municipalities surrounding us,” she said, “just increases the likelihood that Salt Lake City continues to struggle with homelessness at a disproportionate rate.”

Homelessness requires the long-term solution of more affordable housing, the west-side council member said, but sanctioned camping can provide immediate relief to neighborhoods like hers.

If those who oversee the more permanent site can prevent negative impacts in the surrounding area, she said, setting up the campground at the proposed location isn’t a bad idea.

“This is not meant to be a long-term housing solution for anyone,” Petro said. “It’s just meant to be a place that restores dignity and helps people get back on their feet, so I think it’s fine, if that’s what we’re going for.”

Wendy Garvin, executive director of Unsheltered Utah, gasped when she saw the proposed location of the permanent camp.

Garvin called the site “a fantastic location” because it is secluded while still being near services.

“People get really nosy and judgy about homeless-related things, and so they can’t see into it from any major road,” she said. “They have to know how to get there. It’s not an obvious place, and nobody has any reason to drive by there.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The potential site of a legal homeless camp near Interstate 15 on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023.