A new report from the Legislative Auditor General confirms what Rio Grande neighborhood advocates have been saying for years: The drug-fueled chaos that surrounds the Road Home’s shelter doesn’t end at the shelter door. Some people inside are shooting up and smoking spice, and that is making it unsafe for everyone.
Auditors lay the blame squarely on The Road Home’s administration, and they call for immediate reforms and improved oversight at Rio Grande and also at The Road Home’s Midvale family shelter and Palmer Court, The Road Home-operated housing complex in Salt Lake City.
Responding to the audit, The Road Home officials say they are updating their policies and will work with auditors. They insist they are screening people and not tolerating drug use, but they acknowledge it’s happening.
That response was unconvincing to Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who called it “unacceptable,” and to House Speaker Greg Hughes, who said, “That kind of random enforcement makes no sense to me.”
McAdams and Hughes are right. The Road Home has tolerated too much for too long, and now its credibility is at stake. It has to do better starting right now.
But before we all rise in moral indignation, there is one important thing to remember: The Road Home goes where no one else will.
The Road Home is what is called a low-barrier-to-entry shelter. It’s based on the core compassion of helping people who aren’t providing for themselves. This includes alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally ill and others who are not ready or able to turn their lives around, and may never be. They use illegal drugs to blunt their pains, and they have little to lose if they try to sneak their fixes into the shelter.
But we still need to try to put a roof over their heads.
Much has been made by McAdams, Hughes and others about how the new, smaller shelters will have a different approach than Rio Grande. Residents will have more services and support, but they’ll have to comply with more rules and show progress (the higher barrier to entry).
That is exactly the right approach for many homeless people, but not much has been said about what happens to the low-barrier population when the Rio Grande shelter closes in a year. They won’t just disappear.
The audit makes very clear that The Road Home needs to change, and time is running out for it to repair the damage before state and local leaders give up on the shelter. But if The Road Home goes away, its clientele still will be among us. We can’t audit our way out of that.