As the nights grow colder and the days grow longer, the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness announced Friday that it will place a new temporary homeless shelter in Millcreek in an effort to help people experiencing homelessness.
The 60- to 75-bed shelter will be located in the former Osmond Senior Living Memory Care facility on 3300 South and will be operated by Switchpoint, which runs a homeless resource center in St. George.
As cases of the coronavirus continue to rise, Jean Hill, co-chair of the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, said in an interview Friday that the spot was big enough to provide space for people to social distance.
“I don’t think you could find a more ideal situation because of its prior use,” she said. “It’s really kind of designed for exactly what we’re doing in many ways. It’s going to be set up to help ensure people stay safe and not just warm.”
There were 44 active positive cases of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake County as of Thursday, according to a weekly report from the county health department.
The overflow center, which is scheduled to open Thursday and will close in mid-April, will have separate rooms to provide adequate separation between residents during the coronavirus pandemic and will offer clients three meals a day. It will operate 24 hours a day and have full-time private security on site.
Clients will not be able to check directly into the facility. Instead, referrals will be made from the Salt Lake Valley’s three homeless resources centers and transportation will be provided from there.
Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini threw his full support behind the overflow shelter on Friday, noting that he thought it was important for the city to do its part to address homelessness in the community.
“I feel, and I think the council feels, we have a moral obligation to give shelter, get people off the street in the winter so they have shelter and don’t freeze,” he said in an interview. “We also need to do our part as a community to bear some of the burden for hosting this kind of a facility.”
An effort to host a similar overflow shelter in Midvale was complicated last month when Mayor Robert Hale came out against the facility, arguing that his city — which is home to the county’s homeless family shelter — had done more than its share to help the unsheltered.
That facility is no longer on the table, Hill said Friday, and the coalition is continuing to look for another winter overflow location in the county.
As part of that effort, she said coalition members had toured three buildings this week that have been offered up by property owners who were willing to help out. And she hopes one of those can come online quickly as temperatures grow colder and the nights grow longer.
“Hopefully this time next year we will have already figured out our plans” for overflow, Hill added.
The coronavirus has further complicated overflow needs within the shelter system that became evident within the Salt Lake Valley’s three new homeless resource centers when they opened last year. The three new resources centers have space collectively for about 400 fewer people than could fit on beds and mats in The Road Home’s demolished downtown emergency shelter.
This year, overflow options will include 80 hotel vouchers and continuing operation of the Stay Safe, Stay Home Hotel for the homeless, an undisclosed location that has space for 130 people. St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall in Salt Lake City is also currently serving as an overflow space with room for 40 to 60 people experiencing homelessness.
Other overflow options that homeless providers considered, but chose not to move forward with, include creating a sanctioned encampment, lifting the statutory occupancy limits at the homeless resource centers and establishing a safe parking program for car camping.
As city leaders prepare for the overflow shelter to open in Millcreek, Silvestrini recognized there may be some concerns from residents. He noted that the city has worked carefully with the facility and has put safeguards in place in case any problems arise.
The overflow shelter also won’t cost the community any extra money beyond additional public safety costs that may result, he said.
“I hope that people will understand that the problem of homelessness is not a Salt Lake City problem,” he said. “It’s a Utah problem.”
“This is a situation where I don’t think people of goodwill can stand by and see people on the street without a warm place to sleep at night and live with themselves,” he added. “I just think we needed to do this.”
Silvestrini said he also anticipates that the building will be safe for people experiencing homelessness, with safeguards for COVID-19 outbreaks and a safety inspection showing everything in the building, which was already zoned for this type of use, is up to code.
Editors note • Anyone seeking shelter is encouraged to call the coordinated entry intake line at 801-990-9999.