‘Safe space’ on Rio Grande Street closes to those without special IDs

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Starting Friday Oct. 27 homeless check in at booth at right to have their coordinated services card scanned before passing into the "safe space" courtyard outside the Road Home shelter. Security provided by the Utah Highway Patrol. The area is accessible from the south on Rio Grand Street. The area to the north at 200 South and Rio Grand is fenced and locked.

Homeless-service clients had to show a specialized ID card to access a fenced-off stretch of Rio Grande Street on Friday, the official debut of what officials have termed a “safe space” between the shelter and day center.

The 1,100-bed homeless shelter at 210 S. Rio Grande St. can still be accessed without an ID, as can the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall to the east. The Weigand Homeless Resource Center can only be accessed through the secured street area.

The ID cards and the streetscape are tied to a two-year effort to reduce crime in the area that launched in mid-August, dubbed Operation Rio Grande and expected to cost $67 million.

State leaders have said the space, which was expected to cost about $200,000, would provide a sense of security to those accessing homeless services.

In the early days of Operation Rio Grande planning, officials had discussed the possibility of restricting homeless services to those in possession of new ID cards, and using the ID cards to identify and arrest criminals.

That hasn’t become a reality, according to state officials. Instead, the ID cards are modeled on those already printed by the Weigand Center, and applicants need not submit to a background check.

A leaflet was handed out to service users recently, saying the card will give them access to the safe space, as well as track and coordinate the services they use. It will not deny access or double as a state-issued ID, like a driver license or a birth certificate.

A Department of Workforce Services spokesman said Friday morning that more than 900 cards had been issued.