SALT LAKE CITY — It's an announcement two years in the making, but that didn't make it any easier for Salt Lake City leaders Tuesday.
In a jam-packed City Council chambers, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and City Council Chairman James Rogers took a moment to prepare themselves before stepping up to unveil sites for the city's four new homeless resource centers.
The decisions are final, they announced, and aren't up for negotiation.
The sites are:
• 653 E. Simpson Ave. (2240 South) in the Sugar House neighborhood
• 275 W. High Ave. (1475 South) in the People's Freeway neighborhood
• 131 E. 700 South (an existing Deseret Industries facility) in the Central City neighborhood
• 648 W. 100 South (owned by city's Redevelopment Agency) in downtown
The site selections were the culmination of a two-year process to reform and realign the system of homeless services that has involved city, Salt Lake County and state officials.
While the public could weigh in on developing the criteria for the site selection process, the City Council and the mayor made the final choices from a pool of about 20 locations, which were later narrowed down to 11 based on the public's input.
The aim was to prevent pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, city officials have said, because they've expected all along that residents and businesses would be nervous to welcome homeless facilities into their neighborhoods knowing the troubles the Depot District has endured from The Road Home's overflowing population on Rio Grande Street.
The capacity of the resource centers will be no more than 150 people each, Biskupski said.
The Road Home — which city officials have confirmed will close once the new resource centers open — has a capacity of about 1,100.
When asked whether the new shelters' combined bed capacity of 600 will be able to serve the homeless population, city officials said they are confident it will. New city and county homeless service programs — including affordable housing initiatives, rapid rehousing and Pay for Success programs — will also be up and running when The Road Home closes, they said.
Biskupski acknowledged that city officials expect some pushback from the public on the sites because they aren't up for negotiation. But the mayor urged Salt Lake residents to face "the harsh realities we have in Rio Grande" and understand the new resource centers "will be so different from what we know today."
The sites, she said, are the "best locations available" and represent more than land. "They're spaces of hope to for those in need," Biskupski said.
Rogers called the site selections a "generational decision," "key for change" and a "difficult and delicate task."
City Councilwoman Lisa Adams said choosing the four sites was a hard enough decision for eight elected officials, so "imagine if we had the whole city — 190,000 people — weigh in."
"We'd end up paralyzed," Adams said. "We knew everybody wasn't going to be happy, and we know people are worried and concerned, so we hope we can link arms with them and make this work well for everybody. At the end of the day, compassion is what we're trying to show here."
Gail Miller, co-chairwoman of the Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission, said it is hoped that as the community moves forward that other cities do likewise "so we can say we take care of our own."
City officials say it's not yet known what role The Road Home will play in the new resource centers, though Biskupski said it will be offered the chance in the competitive bidding process to offer its services.
Resource centers are planned to provide emergency shelter but also offer a wide array of services on-site.
The newest example in the city is Volunteers of America-Utah's Homeless Youth Resource Center, 888 S. 400 West. It provides youths shelter, meals, a place to do laundry, shower or pick up clothing. It's a place to help youths complete their education, find work and housing. It's a place where youths struggling with addiction, mental illness or other trauma find help.
While the mayor and City Council stand firm behind the selection of the four sites, David Litvack, Biskupski's deputy chief of staff, said decisions have not been made where to place the shelters that will serve specific populations such as single women, single men and families.
To give input on the design and the population each facility will serve, the public is invited to three public workshops at the Public Safety Building, 475 S. 300 East, from 1-3 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Jan. 11, and 6-8 p.m. Jan. 18.
When pressed whether the council and mayor would bend in the face of "public shouting" with regard to the site locations, Litvack said he doesn't consider "public shouting part of that due diligence."
While the public had no specific say in winnowing the sites from 20 possible locations down to four, Litvack said the city relied on residents' input to refine the selection criteria that was ultimately used. The criteria included the sites' location to existing services, transit access, and lack of access to the regional drug trade.
City officials, in a briefing prior to the announcement, said none of the sites are zoned for residential use, however they are all in mixed-use zones that also allow residences.
Safety for people experiencing homelessness is a high priority, as well as ensuring safety for people who live and work them. Proximity to public transportation was another consideration.
Tuesday’s announcement comes after nearly two years of work intended to transform the state’s system of service for people experiencing homelessness, which has involved state and elected officials, as well as two panels appointed by the mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.
The city mayor's Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission, chaired by Miller and former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis, worked collaboratively with city officials to assess and finally recommend sites for the resource centers.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake County’s Collective Impact on Homelessness Steering Committee, appointed by Mayor Ben McAdams, has been working to reform the delivery system of homeless services and help plan resource centers.
Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature appropriated the first of what state lawmakers envision as a three-year commitment to the state’s services for people experiencing homelessness. Toward that end, lawmakers appropriated $9.25 million, the first installment of a planned $27 million total appropriation.