After an arduous and painful four-year process to replace the Road Home homeless shelter, discussions began this year on replacing the Road Home homeless shelter.
Tribune reporter Taylor Anderson revealed this week that a group of state leaders has been meeting since February to come up with a plan for the people who won’t fit the criteria to stay in one of the three new shelters being built now to replace the Road Home.
Ever since former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and County Mayor Ben McAdams were essentially forced into facing up to the crisis by Rio Grande area property owners in the area back in 2014, community leaders have been promising not just new shelters but a different approach to homelessness.
Instead of just giving them a cot and a meal, the new shelters would give them a realistic path out. They would be focused on mental health and substance abuse therapy, job and parent training and other support services.
New shelters with a new attitude will absolutely help those who are both ready and able. But what about the hundreds of people who are just unable or unwilling to take those steps? Do they just freeze and starve to death?
No, and everyone involved in addressing Utah's homelessness knew it from the beginning. These are the hardest cases, so they just kept kicking the can down the road. Now, with Road Home shelter less than a year from its scheduled close, they've run out of road and need to find a home.
And it’s looking like the answer will look a little like the one from 20 years ago when the Rio Grande shelter opened. Whether it’s dormitory style or single-room occupancy, the fourth shelter probably will be in a commercial/industrial zone, like the Rio Grande shelter was before the neighborhood gentrified. It won’t be able to make many demands of its clientele, or they will just stay away. It also likely will require additional police protection to keep it from becoming an Operation Rio Grande-style mess.
The fourth shelter won’t be duplicating the current shelter, but it still will attract drunks, addicts and those whose voices in their heads won’t let them build a future.
There’s a reason those speaking up in Anderson’s story are people like longtime homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson and Jean Hill of Catholic Community Services. We’re no longer in the territory of political policy wonks who think they can create carrots and sticks to escape through social engineering. This is a job for the compassionate, and thank God they’ve always been there.