Salt Lake City mayor and council: Every person deserves shelter in the winter

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) New Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced plans Thursday for opening a new emergency shelter to fill the capacity gap in the three existing homeless resource centers. The overflow shelter will contain 145 cots and will be located in Sugar House at 2234 S. Highland Drive in the old city-owned Deseret Industries building,

Every person who seeks shelter during the winter months should have access to a safe, warm place to sleep and ability to connect with services. This is a fundamental human right — a right that we believe in, and which we know our neighbors in Salt Lake City also believe in.

For years, Salt Lake City and its partners in the county and the state have worked diligently to address the needs of our unsheltered neighbors. But even as we do our best, we understand that those needs evolve, and we too must evolve our approach to meet them.

Thursday, in an effort to do just that, we announced that after weeks of work and coordination with county, state and service partners, we will make 145 new beds available at the Sugar House Temporary Shelter — a temporary overnight shelter that will be housed in a vacant building located at 2234 Highland Drive, and which is owned by the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency.

We believe that this addition to the current resource centers represents a necessary evolution of what is currently a successful and highly functioning system. Our Homeless Resource Centers are working. We know this because people are taking advantage of the services available to them there. But our ability to truly serve the unsheltered population relies on our collective ability to be agile, and to work dynamically when change may be necessary.

And while this site is only for this winter, opening the Sugarhouse Temporary Shelter now has an ability to help us determine future needs. Our understanding of its use, coupled with our continued efforts around permanent housing, will give us a more clear view of what we and our partners need to do to evolve, and continue meeting needs.

We believe one of those fronts will be to continue placing people in housing, including permanent supportive housing where people can get help for conditions that often lead to or perpetuate the inability to stay in their own home, like addiction and mental illness. And we cannot ignore the critical need for more affordable housing in our capital city.

Salt Lake City has allocated more than $52 million dollars since 2016 in helping create more affordable housing. Add the millions of dollars from the County and State in the last several years and you have the foundation of a serious financial commitment from the joint partnership.

From the beginning, there also have been multiple organizations that have teamed up to provide services that include well over a hundred individuals doing important work with limited resources. They have worked through many complicated & controversial issues, and our community is better for their work and that experience. There’s no dearth of compassion in Utah for these problems on any “side” of the issue.

We all have the same goal: to provide shelter and help people get off the street. Small victories, such as one more person on his or her way to a new life, is enough motivation to keep trying to do the best for all. These efforts are more than government supporting its residents and visitors. It’s about being a good neighbor and a decent human being when another is struggling.

We call on our fellow citizens to embrace the spirit of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The decision we are making as elected officials is in that spirit.

In the words of Dr. King, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Submitted by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and City Council Members James Rogers, Andrew Johnston, Chris Wharton, Ana Valdemoros, Dan Dugan and Amy Fowler.

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