Sugar House neighbors confront nonprofit, saying it lied about its plans for a ‘hospice for the homeless’

If the Salt Lake City neighborhood that’s the future home to a medical facility for homeless people wanted to stop the new project from moving forward, residents there on Thursday confronted a hard reality.

“We want to hear your voices. It won’t stop us from moving in, but we want to be good neighbors,” said Kim Correa, executive director at the INN Between, told a gathering of about a hundred Sugar House residents at a town hall on Thursday night.

The building on 1300 South near 1200 East that once operated as a skilled nursing facility soon will become home to what is essentially a clinic for people who have a medical referral for treatment but nowhere else to turn.

And while neighbors spent an hour and a half learning more Thursday about what that facility intends to do and for how many people, they learned another jarring fact: The INN Between plans to move patients in as soon as next week.

Several neighbors said they are stunned at the speed of the project and what they feel is deceit on the part of the nonprofit that’s been operating west of downtown for about three years.

They said administrators of the care center haven’t been forthcoming about the number of patients, its licensure or the types of treatment it’s offering to homeless people.

Some said they didn’t want the facility to relocate there, believing it would be inviting criminals, drug dealers and sex offenders into what is a higher-end part of the city.

If “one of those crazies grabs my kids, you will be responsible,” one woman said, referring specifically to clients who possibly could include people on the sex offender registry.

Others said they were comfortable with what was advertised as a hospice center for homeless residents near their homes.

But they became upset when, four days after of the nonprofit had hand-delivered newsletters to their doors on April 29, it publicly said it intended to treat as many as 75 people at the facility.

“We were all told 25-bed hospice,” said Chris Owens, who lives near the building. “But that’s not what we’re getting. They knew it was a lie from the beginning.”

“Originally, we were told this was a hospice. Not bad, except it is not hospice, it is housing for medically ill homeless,” said April Normandie-Harry, who lives near the new site.

The facility will offer treatment for people of varying ailments, from those nearing death to those seeking treatment for cancer or ailments that might not be fatal. While Correa said the building could hold upward of 85 people, she thought realistically it would be closer to 75 once the group gets final state approval on the number.

Correa acknowledged in an interview that only about a third of the 16 beds at the present site are filled with terminally-ill patients seeking palliative care. About another third are cancer patients who can’t undergo debilitating treatments like chemotherapy and radiation if they are on the street, Correa said.

The remainder are short-term patients who don’t require inpatient hospital care but still need regular treatment for wounds, infections and other maladies.

“The word ‘hospice’ is a safe haven for anybody,” Correa said. “In medical terminology, hospice is end-of-life care, pretty strictly defined as the last six months of life. In our case, hospice is really our primary focus, but we also take any homeless individual who is having a serious medical issue and needs to be off the street. ... People get really hung up on this, and they’re looking for something that’s unethical. They’re grasping for straws. It’s a semantic issue.”

Neighbors said it’s more than a semantic issue; if anyone with a health problem can stay at the site, it becomes a de facto homeless shelter, Normandie-Harry said.

“I didn’t buy my house to live down the street from a homeless shelter,” she said.

Correa disputed that characterization, noting that all of the patients come with a medical referral, most directly from a hospital, and the INN Between doesn’t provide psychiatric or addiction treatment.

And unlike The Road Home shelter downtown, clients can’t just walk in the doors and stay, INN Between officials said Thursday night, and they will adhere to a 10 p.m. curfew with limited exceptions.

For much of the contentious meeting, Correa took questions from people who feared what would happen with the change in their neighborhood.

Some were upset that they weren’t alerted before the building transaction went through with the help of nearly $1 million from the Legislature and various loans that pass through semigovernmental entities, like the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund.

Correa said there would be less impact on the surrounding homes because fewer people would live in the building. Many of the INN Between’s clients have no visitors. Patients aren’t driving cars, and there will be fewer staff than at the nursing facility.

Correa told the neighbors her group would be responsive to any concerns raised once the site is up and running. A community board made up of members of the neighborhood will act as a go-between of sorts between the nonprofit and nearby residents.

Correa said she was committed to dealing with any possible problems and that her group, which she said was unique in the country, has a three-year track record of working with neighbors with minimal problems.

It’s just been at a much smaller site.

Neighbor Kelly Watson said the INN Between should have been upfront about its plans to expand and to treat recovering patients, as well as terminal patients.

“There’s no transparency,” Watson said.

Regardless, the project will move forward and faces no major obstacles. Because the building was already zoned for medical purposes, the nonprofit doesn’t have to undergo the cumbersome zoning change process.

“We knew this was a done deal,” Owens said. “We’re not anti-homeless people. We’re anti-being-lied-to-people.”