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Why annual rush for shelter?

The scramble to find shelter for the homeless has become a yearly rite, triggered as soon as the season's cold solidifies its grip on the community. This fall is no exception.

Why the annual scramble to care for those in need? The entire community should wonder. Certainly, the need for emergency space has been known for months.A cooperative, long-term solution ought to be found to avoid the yearly hand-wringing. It should be spearheaded by Salt Lake City in cooperation with other local governments, the state, charities, religious groups and concerned citizens.

The homeless should never fall through society's cruel cracks, especially in a community as relatively conscientious as along the Wasatch Front.

Utahns have a deserved reputation for meting kindness to those down on their luck, but annually there is the challenge of protecting people from winter's chill. The 240-bed emergency overflow shelter at 1515 S. 400 West has been closed. That will force hundreds onto the freezing streets unless a suitable alternative is quickly found.

Without a quick solution, there may be a repeat of last year's tragic episode where an unsheltered man froze to death one cold night. No public official ought to want that, but mid-October is awfully late to be planning for the winter.

Planning should begin in springtime. Unfortunately, this appears to be an issue spurred only by crises. As soon as one hits, people scurry to act.

Families with children will find relief this winter at the old Silver State metal processing building on 600 South, opened as an emergency shelter. But others are in jeopardy, especially single men.

All local communities should join in a cooperative effort to find space. Salt Lake City's planning and zoning process should be streamlined to bring new shelters quickly on line. But, though homelessness and the need for shelter is most acute in downtown Salt Lake City, it is not solely the city's problem.

The Salt Lake City Council recently proposed that the Salt Lake Council of Governments work together to increase temporary housing for the homeless. It recom- mended taking inventory of community resources and working toward decentralization of care throughout various communities along the Wasatch Front.

That is a worthy goal that should be pursued. But to help many homeless survive this winter, an immediate "warehouse" approach must be found in downtown Salt Lake City before time runs out for too many.