A “safe space” created on the street outside Salt Lake City‘s homeless shelter is now officially in state hands until the closure of that shelter or Jan. 1, 2020 — whichever comes first.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to extend its lease to the state, which plans to limit access to the fenced-off area to those in possession of newly printed homeless services cards. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the council had closed the public right of way on a more temporary basis.
The closure is part of a two-year effort to reduce criminal activity around the 210 S. Rio Grande St. shelter and the day center and dining hall across the closed street to the east.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, who spearheaded Operation Rio Grande from a donated Gateway mall storefront, has said that a “safe space” was essential both to protect those trying to access services and to provide an alternative destination for people in violation of a citywide camping ordinance.
More than 1,600 people have been arrested during the first two months of the crackdown. Leaders expect to complement the enforcement with 240 new residential treatment beds by the end of 2017 — though 180 hinge on approval of the state’s Medicaid waiver — and to launch an associated employment initiative.
Council Chairman Stan Penfold said before the vote that he worried that even with the estimated $67 million being spent on the operation, not enough is being done to help the population seeking services in the area.
Added Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall: “We are relying on hope too much at this point.”
“This is a serious request that we could say no to, ultimately, and I would like to have more assurance from our state and other partners that these successes will come to fruition.”