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State committee to discuss unfreezing Road Home funds, possible sale of downtown shelter

With new security in place after harsh audit, Road Home may get the rest of its money

SALT LAKE CITY — Heading into an important meeting with a jam-packed agenda Wednesday afternoon, state leaders are expected to address several critical issues that have lingered for months as they work to reform the state's homeless delivery system.

That includes whether the Road Home will receive the rest of its annual funding after the Homeless State Coordinating Committee froze nearly all of its money in the wake of a scathing legislative audit, which reported pervasive drug use and lax security.

Additionally, state officials are scheduled to discuss the possibility of purchasing the Road Home's downtown shelter property — the beginning of talks about what will happen to the facility when it's slated to shut down less than a year from now, by July of 2019.

And after all that, amid some other agenda items, state officials are also expected to release the state's 2018 annual report on homelessness.

"It's a packed agenda," said Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, the organization that owns the Road Home's downtown shelter facility and is building the three new homeless resource centers meant to replace the downtown shelter.

Nearly four months ago, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General released its report detailing "major problems" and "appalling conditions" within the Road Home's downtown shelter and Midvale family shelter. In anticipation of that audit, the State Homeless Coordinating Committee voted to limit the Road Home's funding until committee members could review its results.

That meant the Road Home — which also manages 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.

At the time, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams‚ who is on the State Homeless Coordinating Committee as well as on the board of Shelter the Homeless, was one of the loudest critics of the Road Home, calling the audit "damning" and demanding immediate action.

Since the release of the audit, Road Home officials implemented a new security program in an effort to respond to auditors' safety concerns, employing a third-party private security team to conduct screening of homeless clients, as well as installing a full walk-through metal detector on the men's side of the shelter.

Tuesday, McAdams said he looks forward to hearing from the Road Home during Wednesday's meeting about the progress "they've made to address security concerns in the audit and what they plan to do going forward."

"I believe the Road Home board has made strides to address some of the issues we've seen," McAdams said, but added that not all the problems are going to be "fixed overnight."

But if all goes well, McAdams said he intends "to support a motion to approve funding for the remainder of the year, but also expect (the Road Home) to report back in the spring" on what other progress has been made.

"I know there are people who are really difficult, and I don't know that those people are probably better inside a facility than they are on our streets, but that doesn't mean we have to make our facilities go to the lowest common denominator and cater to the worst or most difficult of those people experiencing homelessness," McAdams said. "I think we can expect certain standards of safety and follow the law."

Cochrane said as property owner of the downtown shelter, Shelter the Homeless also "wants to make sure that all of the concerns are being addressed."

Also on Tuesday, the Salt Lake County Council approved a resolution granting $90,000 out of previously budgeted $400,000 to Shelter the Homeless to fund the security pilot program for the next three months.

After that contract runs out, Cochrane said Shelter the Homeless plans to contract with the state's Department of Workforce Services for a security program — though the details of that contract are still being worked out, he said.

As for the potential sale of the downtown homeless shelter facility at 210 Rio Grande Street, Cochrane noted that no agreements have been hashed out, but it's been part of Shelter the Homeless' plan to sell the Rio Grande property in order to finance the construction of the three new homeless resource centers.

"Our plan all along has been to sell that when it's closed, but whoever the new buyer is going to be, we don't know yet," Cochrane said.

So if state officials "want to make a proposal" to buy the property from Shelter the Homeless, they're welcome to do so, Cochrane said, but first, they'd need the buy-in from the State Homeless Coordinating Committee.

Meanwhile, Shelter the Homeless will be getting an independent appraisal on the property to determine its fair market value, Cochrane said.