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Road Home continues hearings with lawmakers about response to critical audit

SALT LAKE CITY — The Road Home told lawmakers Tuesday it has found success with a pilot program intended to beef up admittance protocols and improve security at its downtown shelter.

Executive Director Matt Minkevitch's presentation to the Utah Legislature's Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee was the latest of several of his efforts to tell policymakers that the organization is serious about responding to a highly critical legislative audit published in May.

The meeting adds to his presentation to the same lawmaking group in June, as well as reassurance proffered earlier this summer to the Legislative Audit Subcommittee, the Salt Lake group called theCollective Impact on Homelessness Steering Committee, and the State Homeless Coordinating Committee.

"The Road Home has revised its guest expectations at emergency shelter, and its house rules in permanent supportive housing," Minkevitch reassured again Tuesday. "The Road Home board has reaffirmed its commitment to low barrier shelter ... (but) low barrier shelter is not anything goes, and low barrier shelter is not an absence of rules."

The report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General in May said there were "serious concerns about the health and safety of the residents" at the Road Home's shelters in Salt Lake and Midvale, and that those were "largely due to a lax enforcement of the rules and procedures designed to prevent drug use and to provide a secure environment."

According to Minkevitch, the Road Home has since clarified its rules of conduct at the facilities, ensured staff are consistent in the enforcement of violations, and partnering with other groups to make sure the campuses generally enjoy more security safeguards than before. One new safeguard was the hiring of third-party security staff and the installation of walk-through metal detectors at the downtown shelter.

Before, only a wand detector was used, and Road Home staff members themselves screened shelter-goers as they entered, per Minkevitch.

That change started July 11, initially on a two-week pilot basis on the men's side of the shelter. Road Home officials explained they would measure the new protocol, in terms of both the amount of weapons and drugs found by security personnel and the number of such items found past the entry checkpoint, and compare those figures to prior data.

Minkevitch didn't share precise numbers with legislators Tuesday, but said the change "was very effective."

"What I find most effective about it is, we have trained personnel who can be surveying the whole area and look through a risk management lens, while our service providers are doing what they do best," Minkevitch said. "(It) is a value add."

He said efforts from the Road Home also include re-keying the locks and inspecting each alarm at its permanent supportive housing facility Palmer Court, as well as "reserving the right" to subject a person to more stringent screening than usual at the Midvale family shelter if they have significant past history that is concerning or if their abnormal times for exiting or entering the building raise red flags. New, bolder signage explaining rules for tenants has also been installed.

At all of the facilities, the Road Home is emphasizing to police partners that "we welcome any law enforcement at all times, 24/7," according to Minkevitch.

"We've also relooked at our procedure regarding guests who have been barred from the facility," he said.

Subcommittee member Rep. Rebecca Chavez Houck, D-Salt Lake City, asked for clarification regarding consequences for those found with illicit items during screening.

"I come in and you find that I've got a substance in my possession, or a weapon, am I just escorted out the door?" Chavez Houck asked. "What happens when a person is caught with something like this?"

Minkevitch answered, "As we undertook the pilot and this protocol, we simply called (law enforcement) when a person has an illegal substance."

He said that if a person is on the other hand found with drug paraphernalia only, without any drug itself, the protocol is to tell them to leave the premises and bar them from accessing the shelter for a minimum of one night.