Mayor Rocky Anderson's administration is trying to secure funding for a temporary homeless shelter during the 2002 Winter Games — believed to be a first for an Olympic host city.
"If we have people freezing to death on our streets," said mayor's chief of staff Deeda Seed, "that isn't a good thing to have during the Olympics."
Deputy Mayor Rocky Fluhart has estimated that turning a west-side warehouse into a shelter — with sleeping quarters for 600 people — will cost $571,000.
Seed and other top officials pleaded this week with the City Council and Redevelopment Agency to fund a shelter that would house people during the 2002 Olympics.
"Help us," said Seed. "We're going to have this problem" of people in Salt Lake City — many of them locals evicted as a result of the Olympics — filling up existing shelters. "We may have to declare an emergency of some sort" in order to convert a warehouse into an additional shelter.
The 700 beds in Salt Lake City's and Midvale's shelters will be filled, said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of Travelers Aid.
"We are always at capacity or near capacity through the course of a normal winter," he said. The winter of 2002 will be anything but "normal," and the need for shelter will climb substantially this February, added Minkevitch. Yet the Olympic host city has nowhere to house displaced families.
"We need to build (the temporary shelter) for Utahns," Fluhart said. "We need to have a solution. We're asking you . . . and the city to invest dollars."
Neither the Salt Lake Organizing Committee nor neighboring communities have yet found a place for a temporary Olympic shelter, Seed said. Other cities say to Salt Lake City, "They're your Olympics," according to Seed. By building a shelter, "we're being good citizens. Maybe we shouldn't be. That's your decision."
"It's a shame this is coming to us at such a late hour," said Councilman Tom Rogan. Like other council members, he hesitated at the expense of providing the shelter. But "I don't think we should enter into the realities of the Olympics with our eyes closed to anything but the good-time part" of the Winter Games.
Mary Guy-Sell, the city staffer planning the temporary shelter, said other Olympic host cities haven't faced the problem Salt Lake City may have during its Games.
"Our unique issue is winter," she said. Other Winter Olympics have been held in more-remote, less-populous cities, and many have taken place in Europe where people are "accustomed to snow camping." Travelers brought camping gear to places such as Lillehammer and Albertville, Guy-Sell said. By contrast, many may end up in Salt Lake City with no such gear — and could "freeze to death on the streets."
Several council members are still skeptical about the need for a temporary shelter. Dave Buhler said the city shouldn't have to house protesters who come to the Games, but "how are you going to discourage them?"
"We're not going to advertise it," Guy-Sell replied. "That's very important. We don't want to have people come here thinking they have a free place to stay."
"I have no compassion for someone who comes to disrupt the Games, to protest the Games, and expects us to house them," added Councilman Keith Christensen.
Anderson has said that he doesn't want to do anything to encourage out-of-state travelers to come to Salt Lake City without room reservations. But the need remains, say both Seed and Minkevitch, for the state's own residents. Many who live in low-cost motel rooms or apartments are likely to be displaced by Olympic Games-goers who can pay higher prices for those beds, Minkevitch said.
Councilman Carlton Christensen suggested that the city spend its money on a more permanent shelter. "If there's a long-term need, I'm willing to step forward with some funds," he said.
But the council tabled the shelter plan so that the city could ask SLOC and the state for help in financing it. SLOC's humanitarian services committee spokeswoman, Linda Hilton, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The 2002 Winter Games are 142 days away.