Opening of new South Salt Lake homeless shelter could be delayed again — this time it’s money

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The South Salt Lake homeless resource center under construction on July 25, 2019.

South Salt Lake • The new homeless resource center scheduled to open this fall in South Salt Lake is facing additional delays — this time as a result of a $13 million past-due bill on construction and a failure to pay subcontractors.

Shelter the Homeless, the nonprofit that owns the center, requested a short-term bridge loan from Salt Lake County in May to complete construction on time, but it has several “outstanding items” to finish before that funding can be approved.

“The reality now is that we can no longer stand by saying that construction delays are a result of weather or permitting issues,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a member of the 15-person Shelter the Homeless board, wrote to the other members Wednesday. “Moving forward, construction delays will be a result of payment issues, which puts the responsibility solely on Shelter the Homeless."

The center was scheduled to open by June 30, the deadline for the emergency downtown shelter’s closure. The date to close The Road Home in Salt Lake City has been pushed back twice, now to sometime in October — due in part to complications getting the necessary approvals for construction in South Salt Lake and also as a result of a rainy spring.

Now, with some subcontractors not coming to work because they haven’t been paid, the completion date of the 300-bed men’s resource center in South Salt Lake has been pushed from Aug. 31 to Sept. 17, Cox said. The timeline for moving clients into the Geraldine E. King Women’s Resource Center in Salt Lake City, meant to happen early August, may need to be moved to Aug. 13, he said.

“At this point, it is critical we meet the established timelines,” he wrote in his letter. “Every time we delay, we lose credibility with key partners. As of right now, we are at a point of relying on Shelter the Homeless staff to produce the necessary items for Salt Lake County in order to secure the funds for the construction completion.”

Cox said the board needs to:

  • commit to a date that it will provide the required documentation to Salt Lake County

  • work with County Mayor Jenny Wilson to determine the timeline on securing funds

  • establish a definite completion date

  • instruct the executive director to identify any items causing delays

The state has appropriated $16 million to help fund construction of the shelters, with fundraising expected to make up the rest of the costs. Executive Director Preston Cochrane said in a message Wednesday night that Shelter the Homeless has raised about 70% of the total capital for construction of the three new homeless resource centers, with state funding representing 27% and private funding 43%. Securing the bridge funding will help prevent further delays, he said.

Nate McDonald, assistant deputy director for the state’s Department of Workforce Services, which signed on to Cox’s email and is helping to oversee the transition in homeless services, said Wednesday night that his office had received confirmation after Cox’s email went out that the few last-minute construction items to be completed at the Geraldine E. King center would be done on schedule. That means the date to move clients there would likely not be affected, he said.

In addition to delays, the South Salt Lake homeless shelter at 3380 S. 1000 West also faces the threat of a state takeover.

The Shelter the Homeless board voted last week in favor of proceeding with a process to convey the shelter property to the state amid a standoff over a permit needed to open a new homeless resource center within the city’s boundaries.

Among the sticking points are several requirements South Salt Lake calls “non-negotiables” — including that the shelter turn away walk-ins unless they have a referral; that a person’s average length of stay not exceed 90 days unless the mayor declares an emergency; and that resource center staff check each client for outstanding arrest warrants.

“South Salt Lake’s conditions do not require the shelter to turn people into the cold,” Mayor Cherie Wood told the City Council during a facility update at its meeting Wednesday. “Rather, they require the shelter to make certain that people who come in the door are evaluated.”

The city also wants compensation for all police and fire service to the resource center and is asking Shelter the Homeless to pick up the tab for whatever public safety costs the state doesn’t cover — a burden the nonprofit says it can’t carry.

The board is expected to ratify its decision to turn the process over to the state at its Sept. 4 meeting. Utah officials would then get regulatory authority over the site and would likely impose terms and conditions similar to the other two shelters.

At the same time, Wood said the city is moving forward with its own processes and is on track to submit the conditional use permit to the Planning Commission for approval in mid-August. The city is also submitting a revised draft of that proposal to Shelter the Homeless on Thursday, she said, with the hope that Cox’s letter represents a turning point for conversations about a state takeover.

“I think that Lt. Gov. Cox speaks in a manner that the state has no plan to take over this facility,” she told council members, refusing to speculate about what might happen otherwise.

But McDonald, with the Department of Workforce Services, dismissed those sentiments Wednesday night.

“There was nothing here that changed anything about the resolution,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “If the resolution did pass and is ratified by Shelter the Homeless, the state is prepared to move forward with it.”