Last summer, The INN Between bought an assisted living center in a single-family-home neighborhood near 1300 South and 1100 East. The INN Between provides a necessary and compassionate service for the homeless people of Utah who would otherwise die on the sidewalks. Around a hundred homeless Utahns die every year.
Homeless people should be treated with the respect that Christianity demands. No one should feel that their final hours of life will be alone on a bench or sidewalk or under a car. In addition, hospitals “dump” some of their homeless patients at the Weigand Center homeless facility on Rio Grande Street in a diaper and hospital gown, and TIB provides them with needed respite care. TIB also provides shelter to homeless people who are getting regular medical treatment for cancer or other diseases. The INN Between provides some semblance of humanity to the least of our brethren.
When TIB moved into the neighborhood, some of the patients seemed to target those neighbors who were against the facility’s presence. They slept on neighbors’ porches, crashed backyard parties and started following kids walking in the neighborhood. Several neighbors (who work with and for the homeless) reported strange cars driving into the neighborhood to deliver what looked like drugs to patients. When the neighbors complained on Facebook and social media, TIB sent them a cease and desist letter that threatened legal consequences if they kept spreading what TIB considered to be lies about TIB! It’s is as if everyone believes in everything on Facebook and no one should share opinions anywhere, but especially not on Facebook.
TIB did agree to a neighborhood advisory committee to evaluate, discuss and recommend policies to mitigate the potential negative consequences of TIB. The committee meetings resulted in conflicts where the neighbors’ concerns were not given attention and TIB’s raison d’être was emphasized.
The INN Between’s importance should never be in doubt. But the concerns of the neighbors seemed to be ignored. The adversarial relationship resulted in the police telling the neighbors that they were not allowed on TIB property. That obviously made neighbors even more upset. With the police order to not go to TIB committee meetings, the potential to identify and fix legitimate issues was stopped. Subsequent efforts to mediate the situation resulted in constant arguments about the importance of TIB instead of addressing the concerns of the neighbors.
During a recent mediation attempt, the neighbors were labeled as un-Christian, which eliminated any chance of mediation. Investigations by the neighbors found that the city and the state were both questioning how to allow the facility and they may have ignored procedures for legally allowing it. Four registered sex offenders became patients. That could result in a lawsuit that will stop the services for those who are dying.
Ironically, some have said that neighbors are upset because they look at the Road Home and think that creates a bad reputation for homeless people. But the issues with the Road Home were created by the lack of adequate public safety and mental health funding that allowed the drug and criminal behavior to exponentially increase. Neighbors of TIB worry that inadequate funding will bring the same problems to their neighborhood.
Unfortunately, TIB is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, far away from stores or fast food restaurants. TIB should have been closer to commercial facilities and reasonable transit options that would provide the homeless population more than a room.
Neighborhood concerns about homeless people should not be dismissed as uncompassionate or un-Christian. These neighbors want what everyone wants: a comfortable and safe place to live, free from crime and conflict, and to be respected. Homeless people want the same. The INN Between should not negatively affect neighbors. Patients should not be walking the neighborhood after hours or threatening residents in the neighborhood. If TIB cannot work with neighbors to address problems and develop reasonable rules, it is a sign that the future homeless resource centers in other neighborhoods will also fail in their efforts.
George Chapman is a former candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City and writes a blog at georgechapman.net.