As some Salt Lake County homeless advocates raise concerns about space constraints within the area’s new system for delivering homeless services moving into winter, Northern Utah is facing its own capacity issues.
The Lantern House in Ogden, the largest homeless shelter north of Salt Lake City, had to “significantly decrease” its bed count from 300 to 211 in July because of code requirements, according to Lauren Navidomskis, the facility’s executive director. In September, the shelter opened its Soup Kitchen as an overflow area to accommodate 63 more people.
“Thankfully, we have been able to manage with this number,” Navidomskis said of the 26-bed deficit, “although we know that the colder months are here and each night we worry about how many could get turned away.”
Every bed counts because the Salt Lake City area’s new shelter system will have beds for 700 people between the three resource centers, nearly 400 fewer than could fit in The Road Home’s downtown facility.
With the two open resource centers already overflowing, doubts linger about whether the new system will be able to fill the void left by the downtown shelter’s closure — even as state lawmakers and others involved in the transition have pledged to move more people into housing to open up space.
Navidomskis believes space conditions in Salt Lake City have already impacted The Lantern House, offering an anecdotal increase in the number of people seeking shelter and other services in Weber County over the last few weeks.
“The nature of the population is very transient, so they do everything they can to survive and that often means coming up here,” she said.
It wouldn’t be the first time conditions in Salt Lake City have impacted homeless services up north. A report released earlier this year showed the rate of homelessness in Weber County has been increasing at a much higher rate than in Salt Lake County — due in part to increased movement from people experiencing homelessness after the Operation Rio Grande law enforcement campaign in Salt Lake City.
Jonathan Hardy, director of the state Housing and Community Development Division, said he was aware of capacity concerns at The Lantern House but expressed doubt about the connection between the two systems, which he described as largely independent of one another.
“We can see in our Homeless Management Information System if people have showed up down here in Salt Lake that previously enrolled in Lantern House and vice versa and there’s very little overlap,” he said.
And while those involved in the transition said they remain committed to making sure people have a place to go where they can get off the streets and connected to services, Hardy said he doesn’t see a reason to reconsider closing The Road Home shelter as a result of challenges up north.
“We’re not anticipating larger street populations from what’s happening up there or from what is going on here with the transition,” Hardy said, noting that there are other resources in Northern Utah people experiencing homelessness can rely on, if needed.
Nate McDonald, a spokesman with the Department of Workforce Services, which is helping with the transition in homeless resources in Salt Lake County, noted that the purpose behind the new system is not to warehouse people but to move them off the streets for good.
“We can focus on putting people into shelter or we can focus on getting people into housing,” he said.
The state has chosen the latter.
Moving forward, Navidomskis said The Lantern House is working with its architect and Ogden City officials to amend its building code and ensure it has space for people to seek shelter. She hopes the issues will be resolved in the next few weeks and said it’s possible the facility could have room for more people when everything’s settled.
As far as whether The Road Home shelter should stay open, as some advocates have called for in recent weeks, Navidomskis said she has “mixed feelings” because of issues with drug use and lawlessness inside the shelter in the past.
But she said she thinks she would “like to see it open” in part to mitigate the impact on The Lantern House. “We’re restricted on beds,” she said, “and don’t know when the answer will come that we can serve more” people.