With Salt Lake City transitioning to a new homeless services model, many criticize the new approach centered around three resource centers. However, critics should note the problems that were involved with the previous model of care.
The single-shelter model kept out many who sought help and warehoused those who did. As a result, many people fell through the cracks. The new resource center-based model helps to meet individuals’ needs while assuring that no one is turned away from help they need to transition out of homelessness.
Over the past month, some people raised concerns that with the resource centers having fewer beds total than the closing downtown shelter, many more people will be exposed to the elements. It should first be noted that no one has been or will be turned away from help. Furthermore, the Road Home does not have the staff to maintain such a large facility nor can the safety of the facility be guaranteed as shown by a state audit.
While the resource shelters often fill up at night, there are overflows and motel vouchers available, and the Department of Workforce Services already exceeded the goal for their November housing push. DWS will continue to monitor the situation and, in conjunction with homeless service providers, will open up more resources if they become necessary so that no one is turned away.
People experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake County in need of resources can call (801) 990-9999.
There was a narrative over the past month that unless the Road Home stays open as an overflow shelter, many people die from exposure. However, after contacting the Salt Lake County Coroner’s office, Utah Highway Patrol, the Salt Lake City Fire Department and Wiscombe Memorial — which holds the contract for indigent cremations in Salt Lake — the Pioneer Park Coalition found no evidence of people dying en masse from exposure during the winter months in Salt Lake City.
In fact, many homeless individuals in Salt Lake die while in shelters from untreated medical conditions or overdoses that go unnoticed until it is too late. This is why ensuring individual care for clients through the homeless resource centers is critical.
Furthermore, since the women’s resource center opened and women moved out of the downtown shelter, Salt Lake has seen an increase in women seeking resources. This is phenomenal, as it means that more women are comfortable seeking help now with the new resources centers which provide personalized, clean and safe care.
This demonstrates that much of the homeless population which refused services at the downtown shelter is now willing to engage with service providers under the new model. The end result is that fewer people will be left on the streets as they now have a safe place to go where they know they can receive the treatment, services, and support they may need to transition into permanent supportive housing.
If, as a community, we truly want to end homelessness, then we need to tackle the problem at hand. This cannot be done with a one-size-fits-all approach. The resource centers are not just smaller shelters. They are places where individuals can receive a full range of resources to connect them to the treatment, employment and housing that fit their individual needs.
We cannot return to a system that is focused only on how many mats we have available each night. Instead, we need a system dedicated to results: to ensuring that everyone receives the help they personally need to make homelessness brief and nonrecurring.
Nelson Lotz is in an intern with the Pioneer Park Coalition.