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Audited Road Home presents its ideas for rule enforcement to homelessness committee

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
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 homelessness.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In the Road Home's first meeting with other members of the Collective Impact on Homelessness Steering Committee since a state audit last month criticized its enforcement of rules, shelter officials presented a tiered list of tenant violations designed to help "properly classify" violations and "guide decision making and response by staff."

The document, called a security incident grid, is considered a first draft and includes the disclaimer that "supervisors are expected to exercise discretion in handling each situation based on the severity of the issue(s) and circumstances involved."

"Depending on the seriousness of the issue(s), steps can be repeated or omitted if the facts of the situation warrant it," the document says.

For minor violations, which include an infraction as benign as not making progress toward housing, it's "not like somebody’s going to get a ruler over the knuckles," said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of the Road Home.

Instead, minor infractions are "indicators somebody's having a challenge and we need to learn more about what their situation is," Minkevitch told the committee.

A so-called Violation A would include possessing alcohol, vandalism, "abusive language or behavior" that is nonetheless non-threatening, or accessing an "unauthorized area of the shelter," according to the document.

A mid-tier Violation B, requiring a review before the person would be allowed back into the shelter, would arise from a severe but non-violent incident. It would include possession of drugs for personal use, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of any weapon besides a firearm, destroying property, stealing, or threatening staff.

A Violation C, the most severe category, would include attacking other tenants or staff, possessing a firearm, or possession of a distributable amount of drugs.

This most severe level of rule-breaking would require a call to police and immediately result in the person being kicked out of the facility. Afterward, it "requires review by (a) supervisor before re-entry" to the shelter, the draft document says.

The Office of the Legislative Auditor General said in an audit published in May that it had "serious concerns about the health and safety of the residents" at the downtown Salt Lake shelter and the family shelter in Midvale, both operated by the Road Home.

"These problems are largely due to a lax enforcement of the rules and procedures designed to prevent drug use and to provide a secure environment in those facilities," the report said.

Minkevitch promised state legislators at the time that "we will revisit our rules," and the Road Home issued a release saying it would be updating the "processes to enforce them."

The Road Home is one of five organizations that has applied to become the main service provider operating one or more of the three homeless resource centers slated to replace the downtown facility by July 2019. The Road Home will continue to operate the Midvale family shelter.

Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, which manages the shelter properties, said the organization is likely to announce its contracts to providers in September.

Minkevitch said Wednesday the most complex situation for enforcing shelter rules involves giving the right amount of discipline to "someone who's misbehaving in a way that's disruptive to other parties, but may not escalate to the degree that police are going to take them in."

Jean Hill, government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, an organization on the steering committee, said she worried about the format of the drafted security incident grid leaving a space for detailing the nature of first and subsequent violations for each different category of violation.

Hill said written protocols at the Road Home ought to make clear that the most serious violations merit no second chance that allows for the possibility of a repeat offense.

"I think we do need to have a broader conversation about what those kind of protocols look like, so we're not saying 'three strikes you're out,' we are (instead) saying this (severe violation) is definitely not going to be permitted," she told her fellow members of the steering committee, a group organized by Salt Lake County made up of providers, businesses and government agencies.

Hill also encouraged the Road Home to look to the protocols of other local providers who serve the indigent when considering how to adjust policies about enforcement of rules.

"Having a view broader view of the array of protocols is incredibly important," she said.

Harris Simmons, president of Shelter the Homeless, said the onus is also on local government and law enforcement to be clear about how they expect to handle various scenarios in which the Road Home must remove somebody from their shelter.

"I think the point of the audit is, if you're going to have policies, you ought to enforce them," Simmons said.

"But ... I think we need to put the ball back in government's court, and say if this is your expectation that ... you're going to have zero tolerance (for certain behaviors) in the shelter, you need to take responsibility for when we put somebody out of the shelter."

He would like to see "a handshake from local government that says ... 'here's what our role is if you take this action and it results in somebody not in shelter,'" he added.

Simmons also said he favored "supervisory discretions" in Road Home policies "because every situation can be a little different and more complicated than it will ever get on a piece of paper."