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Much of Road Home funding on hold amid wait for audit results

Legislative report in wake of concerns over 'appalling conditions' expected next week

The newly rebuilt Road Home Midvale Center Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. In a modest conference room in the Road Home's shelter, outreach workers, caseworkers, housing specialists and others meet weekly to put roofs over the heads of people experiencing chronic
FILE - The Road Home Midvale Center Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. About six months after legislators called for an audit of the Road Home homeless shelters in response to reports of "major problems" and "appalling conditions," auditors are set to release their findings next week.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — About six months after legislators called for an audit of the Road Home homeless shelters in response to reports of what they described as "major problems" and "appalling conditions," auditors are set to release their findings early next week.

And in anticipation of that report, scheduled to be released when it's reviewed by the Legislative Audit Subcommittee Tuesday, state leaders have decided to limit the Road Home's state funding until the audit can be reviewed.

It's not yet clear what the audit will reveal, but the State Homeless Coordinating Committee voted Wednesday — the day it was scheduled to approve state allocations for various Utah homeless agencies and programs for the coming fiscal year — to approve only 1/6 of the Road Home's appropriation until after the audit can be addressed by the committee in August.

That means the Road Home — which manages three facilities, including shelters in downtown Salt Lake City, Midvale, and the Palmer Court permanent supportive housing development — was only granted about $750,000 of the more than $4.5 million in appropriations it would have otherwise received for the year.

The fraction of funding is meant to provide enough money to sustain programs over at least the next several months until state leaders can revisit the appropriation.

But the decision has left Matt Minkevitch, the Road Home's executive director, worried about making ends meet until August.

"This is definitely a setback, there's no doubt about it," Minkevitch told the Deseret News Thursday. "I'm not pressing the panic button, but I'm certainly concerned."

Minkevitch also worries the decision might set in a "chilling effect" on private donations to the nonprofit, "which we depend on — we exist upon them," he said.

Minkevitch said he's not "legally free" to talk about the audit's results until after it's released, but he did say, "We look forward to our opportunity to respond" during Tuesday's meeting.

When asked if the audit's results might quell any concerns, Minkevitch only repeated: "We look forward to having our opportunity to respond."

In response to concerns about safety and drugs inside the shelter, Minkevitch said, "Let me tell you, there are always problems with providing services in our community, in our nation," when serving individuals with such high needs.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, a State Homeless Coordinating committee member, made the motion to approve only 1/6 of the funds Wednesday to "make sure that we as a committee understand where we need to direct our funding in order to make sure things do improve" and to ensure "we hold ourselves accountable."

"I would just feel really uncomfortable (approving funding) not knowing what's in the audit," McAdams said, adding that he hasn't been "privy" to the report.

McAdams last year secretly spent a night in the Road Home's downtown shelter, where he said he "didn't feel safe" and experienced "shocking conditions" — including open drug use and violence — inside the facility.

That included a fight between two men in the dorms, as well as the smell of smoke from drugs "all night long." McAdams also recently described how his bunkmate had "a heroin needle in his arm" to delegates during the Utah Democratic Party's state convention last month, though he initially declined to discuss details about that encounter when he first talked about the experience last summer, not wanting to "do this as an expose" of the Road Home.

Last year, "in part due to my own experience of unsafe conditions in the shelter," McAdams said he recommended actions to "improve safety" in the Road Home and prepare it to eventually close in 2019, including the relocation of all families with children out of the downtown shelter and into the Road Home's family shelter in Midvale.

"We all know the conditions in the Road Home didn't happen overnight, and (conditions in) the Rio Grande area didn't happen overnight — and they're complicated," McAdams said. "I think we also know the responsibility for those conditions rests with numerous partners."

Legislative Auditor General John Schaff confirmed Thursday that the audit will be released at 3 p.m. Tuesday but declined to discuss its results or whether it found anything concerning.

"We had numerous legislators with questions, and we responded," Schaff said. "Questions were raised about how safe and secure it is — questions about drug use and things like that."

McAdams said the Road Home will have an opportunity to respond to concerns when the audit is discussed in front of legislative leaders Tuesday, and the State Homeless Coordinating Committee can revisit the nonprofit's funding in its next meeting in August, after the audit can be reviewed.

In the meantime, the 1/6 of funds that was approved Wednesday should allow "services to continue uninterrupted," McAdams said.

But Minkevitch said Thursday the hold on funds complicates matters. He said this time of year is when the Road Home uses "a lot of private cash" because it's near the end of the fiscal year. He also said some service contracts need to be paid out this time of year.

"But you deal with the hand you're dealt," he said. "You utilize the funding you have, and when you don't have enough funding, you prepare and adjust."

Asked if the delay in the rest of the funds might force the Road Home to turn clients away from services, Minkevitch said, "I don't want to predict that right now."

"Here's the thing I know we're going to do," he said. "We're going to keep serving. We're going to work side by side with our partners at the state, and we're going to serve as much as we possibly can."