Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Tuesday that the question of whether to keep the Road Home’s homeless shelter open through the winter months is still on the table after persistent concerns over lack of capacity within three new resource centers in the Salt Lake City area.
The size of the problem came into sharper focus at a meeting of the nonprofit overseeing the reinvented system to address homelessness, with service providers revealing space problems now affecting homeless women will likely worsen once the third and final resource center for men opens next month.
That’s because the 160 beds currently available for men within the new system are already full and the new resource center won’t have enough space to handle the 408 men who stayed Monday night at The Road Home’s shelter.
“We’re 100 over [capacity of the new centers] and we’re not quite in peak season,” Josh Romney, a Shelter the Homeless board member, said Tuesday.
And though state leaders have previously said they weren’t looking at keeping The Road Home shelter open after the new system is fully operational, Lt. Gov Spencer Cox acknowledged that would be under discussion at an as-yet unscheduled emergency meeting of state and local leaders to find solutions in case of a capacity crisis.
“We’re working on it with the city and the county, the [House] speaker, the [Senate] president; we want everybody in there to talk about that issue,” he said.
The idea of keeping the main downtown shelter open has been floated by advocates, community leaders and Salt Lake City mayoral candidate Erin Mendenhall. Crossroads Urban Center, which provides homeless services in Salt Lake City, has argued that the state’s timeline for closing The Road Home is “arbitrary," and that “waiting until the end of April to close the downtown shelter will not harm anyone and will give us an entire year to develop overflow plans for the winter of 2020.”
Even as capacity concerns loomed over the meeting Tuesday, the Shelter the Homeless board was primarily focused on attempting to resolve a protracted disagreement with South Salt Lake over how to run the third and final resource center, which is scheduled to open in the city next month. City leaders have long been resisting siting a shelter within South Salt Lake’s boundaries.
The nonprofit’s board voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a series of rules regulating the shelter, but the fight isn’t over quite yet, since the nonprofit board’s approval of the contract is subject to amendments that still need to be approved by South Salt Lake’s Planning Commission.
Ultimately, the board made signing of the permit contingent upon several changes to the language of the proposal, including the number of staffers who are required to be on-site overnight and to specify that information shared with police will be in accordance with federal regulations and guidance. They also discussed changes to rules that now ban all but service animals and to the way medication will be distributed throughout the shelter.
The city’s Planning Commission is expected to consider the amendments early next month.
If they can’t agree, Shelter the Homeless is prepared to use the “nuclear option” of taking the city out of the picture altogether and conveying the property to the state, though that appeared to be seen as a last resort for most board members, who said they wanted to maintain a good relationship with the city.
“I think we’ve proven that the pathway may be different to how we get where we need to get but I think we’re all wanting to get to the same place,” South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood said Tuesday, encouraging the board not to take that route.
Shelter the Homeless had threatened previously to turn the process over to the state if the city did not finalize its resource center permit in July to the satisfaction of both parties. Shortly afterward, a majority of board members voted in favor of a proposal to execute a deed to the state for $100 upon the building’s completion.
But the board had a change of heart last month and decided to hold off on that move pending further negotiations between the two entities.
Whatever the final outcome, Shelter the Homeless Executive Director Preston Cochrane said the permit is not expected to push the opening of the 300-bed men’s shelter further into the cold winter months.
The version of the permit approved Tuesday still includes several items Shelter the Homeless has found objectionable, including that the average length of stay for clients not exceed 90 days unless the mayor declares an emergency.
But the final version, which the South Salt Lake Planning Commission approved on Thursday, actually provides more details about how that would work, requiring Shelter the Homeless to track the average length of stay of its residents and provide a quarterly report on that number to South Salt Lake City staff.
If that exceeds 50 days, the city will “cooperate in good faith” to implement changes to the system’s practices and procedures to reduce that time, the permit states.
That’s a concern for Matthew Minkevitch, executive director for The Road Home, who noted that “the length of stay with respect to the new resource centers is much higher than any length of stay we have normally.”
The city has backed down on several requirements in its original conditional use permit, including its refusal to accept walk-in clients for intake at the center unless they had a referral and its mandate that the nonprofit provide compensation for any police and fire protection to the 300-bed resource center beyond what the state has already covered.
“The language you see is very much the result of compromise,” said Rob Hughes, an attorney with Parsons, Behle and Latimer who’s been working with Shelter the Homeless through the process with South Salt Lake.
The shelter has already faced multiple delays as a result of rainy weather, challenges getting the necessary approvals for construction in South Salt Lake and, most recently, because of millions of dollars in past-due bills for construction. The completion date of the resource center was pushed from Aug. 31 to mid-October as a result.
Clients are now expected to move in sometime next month.