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'Hard work ahead' after Utah lawmakers appropriate $9.25 million for statewide homeless initiatives

SALT LAKE CITY — It's back to work for the Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City volunteer committees that developed recommendations that became the backbone of a new statewide homeless initiative just adopted by the Utah Legislature.

"This is a milestone. This is a signficant moment and fantastic outcome from the Legislature, but there's a lot of hard work ahead of us and we are starting that work today," Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said at a news conference Friday at the Utah Capitol.

Earlier this week, the Utah Legislature passed HB436, which appropriates $9.25 million in state and federal funds for the statewide Housing and Homeless Reform Initiative, the first installment of a proposed $27 million, three-year funding plan.

It means a new round of work for the city and county panels that studied homeless services and the location of service providers, and delivered their braided recommendations to McAdams and then Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker late last year.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said the city would reconvene its site evaluation committee under the leadership of Gail Miller and former Mayor Palmer DePaulis and include stakeholders from across the state.

"We have a lot of interest in participation from St. George to Logan," Biskupski said. "Every community in our state is impacted by this issue, not just Salt Lake City."

Meanwhile the county's collective impact committee will begin planning for the "facilities and investments made possible thanks to the work of our governor and our state Legislature," McAdams said.

Shortly before midnight Thursday, lawmakers also passed SB169, which prohibits municipalities from adopting or enforcing ordinances or other regulations that prohibit a homeless shelter from operating year-round. Midvale is not mentioned by name in the legislation but it is the only city that has an emergency shelter that operates seasonally.

Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini said she is counting on the help of lawmakers and stakeholders to "smooth out the wrinkles" of year-round use of the new Midvale Center, a family emergency homeless shelter the city permits The Road Home to operate during the winter months.

"This has been a real challenge to the community. They have not welcomed the news with hurrahs and cheers. They're concerned that this will cause more problems than it will solve," Seghini said.

She vowed to work with lawmakers and other stakeholders "to fine tune what we have been asked to do."

Seghini said she hopes the Midvale shelter and will become a model to the rest of the state and encourage other communities in Utah to share the responsiblity of serving, housing and sheltering people experiencing homelessness.

"I think we have an army behind us. It will not be easy. There will be disgruntled people, but there will be people that are warm and protective as well, and children who are safe and parents who go and look for a job so other families in crisis can move into their spot," she said.

Midvale's history of serving homeless people dates back to 1998, when it agreed to shelter, for the remainder of that winter, an overflow of single men from the downtown homeless shelter, Seghini said.

Since then, the city has permitted a seasonal homeless shelter, mostly to house families, though single adults have stayed there at times. Under late amendments to SB169, "this bill also has a prohibition against single men ever moving into this facility, which does not currently exist. That is a very important concession to the city of Midvale," said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, speaking in support of the bill Thursday.

But Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, who opposed the bill, said year-round operation of the shelter presents logistical challenges because the newly constructed Midvale Center has no air conditioning.

Eliason, in House debate Thursday night, said the legislation provides resources to help soften the impact of year-round operation, "additional law enforcement for this area, public works improvements for a half-million dollars for roadways, sidewalks and road improvements."

Midvale will report to the Utah Legislature annually for the next four years until SB169 sunsets about how the change impacts the city.

"Doing this overnight creates 65,000 additional shelter nights for human beings that will potentially move into the hallways of the Rio Grande shelter downtown where we know some of the issues existing in that corridor," Eliason said.

The 2020 sunset provision "will give other cities a chance to step up and help shelter the homeless because Midvale has done an outstanding job and more than their fair share," he said, "and this is simply a bridge until other cities can step up with housing and temporary shelter options."

But overriding Midvale's conditional-use permit with legislation may make the challenge of siting shelters in other municipalities more difficult.

"Midvale has been a great partner in helping homeless folks when no one else would, except Salt Lake City in this area. Their role in the process should be respected," said Glenn Bailey, executive director of the advocacy organization Crossroads Urban Center, in an interview Friday.

"It's going to be a difficult process siting shelters. We knew that the whole time, and now we need to get to that work. That's one reason I feel strongly we need to keep what we have downtown where there is no conditional-use permit and it's zoned for that purpose but reduce the pressure on it. That involves siting other facilities, which means you've got to work with those other municipalities. That's the next challenge," Bailey said.