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'I get it now': Draper mayor rescinds homeless sites offer during raucous public gathering

DRAPER — After more than three hours of listening to over 700 Draper residents protest his proposal to volunteer two Draper sites for a new homeless resource center, Mayor Troy Walker rescinded his offer late Wednesday.

The day before, Draper was apparently the only city that had any support for a homeless facility — but its residents made it crystal clear they would fight it with everything they had.

The raucous gathering at Draper Park Middle School — filled with boos, screaming and angry rebukes thrown at Walker and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams — lasted nearly two hours over schedule, but minutes after Walker agreed to take the sites off of the table, the crowd dispersed.

His decision came after audience members questioned the integrity of the deal, accused him of disregarding his constituents, threatened a lawsuit, demanded his resignation and called for his impeachment.

"We might not always agree," Walker said, after being asked repeatedly if he would rescind the offer. "My view of my job as an elected official is to vote my conscience."

"No, you work for us!" one resident shouted, before the auditorium erupted in more jeers. Some residents leaped out of their seats and walked toward the stage, shouting at the mayor.

Mayor McAdams addressing angry crowd in Draper, protesting homeless sites

Posted by Deseret News on Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"I really thought I would have some support, but I get it now," Walker continued. "I don't think we can make our offer. I don't think we can do it."

That's when the auditorium erupted in cheers.

Minutes after McAdams left, declining to comment to reporters further than saying a site decision will be made Thursday, the day he's required by law to submit a recommendation to the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee.

"We're going to meet tomorrow as an evaluation committee and sort through what we've heard and make a determination," McAdams said on his way out.

Walker's backpedaling now brings the number of sites up for consideration for a new homeless center down from nine to seven — just one day after the Draper mayor said alongside county leaders that his city would be "part of the solution."

Sites in South Salt Lake and West Valley now remain the only options — where leaders of both cities have adamantly protested any homeless resource center in their communities.

Concerns that those communities have voiced — fears that a homeless center would bring drugs and crime to their neighborhoods — matched those expressed by people in Draper.

Most of Draper's residents' rage, however, was focused on the fact that they were only given one day to protest the site — a day before the deadline for the county to make a recommendation.

"It's time to pay for going behind our backs," said Ed Cheeseman of Draper, who called for Walker's immediate resignation.

"If you had the idea Thursday, you should have let it pass," Kent Hasting told his mayor, who said he initially proposed the idea to McAdams last week. "The optics of this are horrible."

While Wednesday's gathering was dominated by furious Draper residents (and some from neighboring Bluffdale), some came asking for compassion for the homeless.

One man, Lawrence — who declined to give his last name out of fear of he would be kicked out of the shipping trailer he was living in on a commercial lot — thanked the mayors for trying to help.

"The reason (they) have rushed this through is because every time somebody brings up homelessness, this happens," he said. "Nobody wants homeless people in their community."

After being interrupted multiple times by shouts and boos, Lawrence threw up his hands and walked off stage.

Others questioned why Walker would volunteer the land in Draper — a site at 15001 Minuteman Drive, and another on the 600-acre parcel currently occupied by the Utah State Prison, set to relocate to Salt Lake City.

Some questioned Walker's motives, and whether he would benefit as a board member of the Utah Transit Authority, which would extend a TRAX line in the area to help accommodate a shelter.

"This reeks of political corruption," said Zachary Cook, of Bluffdale.

Troy Martinez, of Draper, threatened to file a lawsuit, claiming the city violated the state's open-meeting law. He also vowed to run against Walker in this year's election.

In an interview after the meeting, Walker said his offer "came from his heart," and there were no "nefarious" deals leading up to the proposal.

"I probably shouldn't have made the offer because of the way the timeline is," Walker said. "But I made it, I just did. I meant the best by it."

Walker said he still doesn't think the facility would damage Draper's economic development — since county officials say the facility would not mirror what is currently in place in downtown Salt Lake City — but "if the people don't want it, they don't want it."

"I still think we could have stepped up and done something, but the problem is the community doesn't want to," he said.

During the meeting, McAdams tried several times to tell the crowd Draper is only one site under consideration and the decision hadn't been made.

The county's site evaluation committee is expected to deliberate the sites at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Utah State Capitol. Afterward, McAdams will send his recommendation to the state committee, which is expected to make a final decision April 10.

After Walker took the Draper sites off the table and the crowd began dispersing, a man named Daniel Shipp — who said he was homeless — took the microphone.

"You know how we feel as homeless individuals trying to live in this community, this world of yours? Like lepers," he said. "You have told us to ... live or die on our own."

Shipp said he had the "utmost respect" for the county mayor.

"When you take a step back and look at homelessness in the future, I ask you please have some compassion," Shipp said. "Please think on this, extend your heart. We as members of the homeless community really need your help, otherwise why would anyone want to become a member of your society when you don't want us."