With the start of the 2002 Winter Games just over a week away, hotel and motel rooms near downtown Salt Lake are scarce, even in out-of-the-way joints that rent for $30 or $40 a night.

The lack of rooms, even at motels that cater to the impoverished, is renewing concerns that many of Salt Lake's near homeless will be forced onto the streets during the 17-day Olympic brouhaha.

For years now, homeless advocates have cautioned that the Games would bring more homelessness. The reason is that many people transitioning out of homelessness take refuge in bargain-basement hotels along State Street and North Temple.

For anywhere from $150 to $200 a week, the down-on-their-luck can find shelter.

But now, room rates have skyrocketed.

"Huge numbers of people that are homeless are calling us asking us if there are places they can go," said Bonnie Macri, executive director of JEDI Women (Justice, Economic, Dignity & Independence for Women).

The influx is blamed, at least in part, on price increases at ? normally ? low-cost hotels.

At Capitol Hotel on State Street the rooms are $125 per night, up from regular prices of $40 a night.

At Gateway Inn on North Temple the rooms are also $125 a night and, like Capitol, you can no longer rent the rooms by the week. The Allstar Travel Inn, less than a block from Gateway Inn, is asking $159 a night.

Zions Hotel, just down the road from Capitol, will raise its rates to $105 a night when the Olympics roll into town. That's up from a normal price of $29 a night.

"Right now we're not taking any more weeklies," said Al Krueger, who owns both Capitol and Gateway. "People that were already here on a weekly rate can stay, but if they move out, their room goes to the Olympics."

During the Games, Krueger says, his place will be full of Olympic guests. He already has spaces filled by visitors from Germany, Mexico, Austria and the United States.

The same is true at Gateway Inn, where all 56 rooms are full.

So except those few that are being grandfathered on the pre-Olympic rates, most locals won't find rooms, even at low-budget motels.

Bill Tibbitts, who runs the food pantry at Crossroads Urban Center, has seen more and more people coming to the pantry who said they have been forced to leave low-budget hotels after they discovered the rates would be increased.

The tight, expensive hotel market also transfers to upscale hotels.

"There was an impression out there recently that there were lots and lots of rooms available," said John Sindelar, SLOC's director of accommodations. "But there are not lots of rooms in downtown Salt Lake."

The few rooms that are available aren't affordable.

Five rooms recently became available at the posh Hotel Monaco, but those rooms require a minimum 19-day stay and run $850 a night.

With prices so high at luxury hotels, advocates say it's having a domino effect, pushing those who normally travel first class into the middle class, the middle class to the low budget and the low budget onto the streets.

Numbers seem to back up their claims.

There are huge numbers of homeless popping up even now, more than a week before the Olympics begin.

Last week The Road Home had to open its new 460-bed facility because its existing downtown shelter and its overflow shelter in Murray were packed. This week, 100 of the new facility's beds are full.

Homes for battered women in Salt Lake County are full and JEDI Women is now shipping people to shelters in Davis County, Macri said.

"I think we're going to start having to see people freezing to death," she said. "There's no doubt about it. We can't escape losing some people this year."

E-MAIL: bsnyder@desnews.com