SALT LAKE CITY — The week after the news spread that the Road Home's downtown homeless shelter won't be able to meet its state-mandated deadline to close in June, state leaders issued more details about their plans to smoothly transition to a new homeless system.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and other homelessness leaders held a news conference Wednesday to detail the planned timeline for the systematic transformation and how they plan to carry out the transition once the three new homeless resource centers open.
"(We) will ensure this is a smooth transition, and most importantly that it's a smooth transition for those impacted the most — our homeless friends," Cox said, "and making sure that they understand the transition and they have access to the services they so desperately need."
Cox said leaders are "preparing for all scenarios and we feel like we will be ready."
With five months to go before the June 30 target date to open the three new homeless resource centers now under construction in Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake, leaders have formed five task groups responsible for specific aspects of the move, Cochrane said. They include:
- Client transition — reduce the number of people both sheltered and living on the streets before June 30, as well as develop a plan to assess homeless clients and prepare them to move from the downtown shelter or into housing.
- Public safety — implement a security plan for clients and recommend safety measures in and around the new resource centers.
- Funders — hash out contracts and budgets with the new resource centers' three operators.
- Infrastructure and technology — ensure the "safe space" fences currently blocking off a segment of Rio Grande Street downtown are removed, as well as identify how to continue using a coordinated services ID card to check clients in and out of services.
- Communication — ensure those impacted by the transition and the general public are aware of the transition plan.
"Really, at the end of the day, the important thing is how do we make sure we get those clients receiving services at the downtown shelter now to the right resource centers when those doors open at each one," Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, told the Deseret News in an editorial board meeting the day before Wednesday's news conference.
People staying at the downtown shelter will relocate to either the 200-bed women's shelter at 131 E. 700 South, the 200-bed men and women's shelter at 275 Paramount Ave., or the 300-bed men's shelter at 3380 S. 1000 West in South Salt Lake. The Road Home's 300-bed Midvale family shelter will also play a role in the new system.
Although many have expressed skepticism the three new resource centers' beds will be enough to accommodate the closure of the downtown shelter, Jonathan Hardy, director of the Housing and Community Development Division for the Department of Workforce Services, said leaders expect the combined beds will be enough to house those needing shelter, since the Road Home's downtown site has averaged about 750 people a night.
They anticipate the beds, combined with at least 200 permanent supportive housing units in Salt Lake City's planning pipeline will be enough. However, if overflow is needed, Hardy said the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall across the street from the Road Home will still be an option, as well as motel vouchers if need be.
Cox acknowledged there is still "some public debate" about whether the new system will have enough beds, but said homeless leaders are confident there will be enough capacity.
"The purpose of these resource centers is to get people out of homelessness so that homelessness is brief and they're able to get into permanent supportive housing, transitional housing or just back with family and friends … that we get them the treatment they need so they can be where they need to be and out of homelessness," he said.
The transition begins as soon as next month, when the 4th Street Clinic's mobile medical clinic is slated to get up and running, according to state leaders' timeline. Next, in the spring and summer, security and food contracts are scheduled to be completed and service providers are slated to hire staff.
The women's and mixed gender homeless centers are scheduled to finish construction by May, as well as be furnished and receive occupancy permits in June, when clients are slated to be moved from the downtown shelter.
The largest shelter, the 300-bed men's shelter, is behind schedule and isn't slated to be completed until late summer — perhaps in August or early September. The move of clients won't happen until perhaps the fall, although construction crews are working overtime and weekends to make up lost ground, Cochrane said.
Meanwhile, the downtown shelter's closure will slowly phase in, Cochrane said, as the South Salt Lake center's delay won't stop clients from being able to move into the other resource centers once they open.
Still, the closure of the downtown shelter won't happen until everyone is relocated and sheltered, Cochrane said, meaning that date is currently scheduled for fall.
In the meantime, homelessness leaders will continue lobbying for more affordable-housing options, an issue that must be tackled at greater lengths if Utah is serious about preventing homelessness, Cochrane said.
Homelessness advocate Pamela Atkinson said she continues to work with stakeholders to help those experiencing homelessness who are reluctant to stay in the shelter and would rather live on the street due to a variety of reasons, whether it be because of mental illness or feeling unable to follow the rules.
"There's always been and will continue to be individuals experiencing homeless who just don't want to engage with the shelter system," she said. "And we have to respect those reasons."
Atkinson has been working to establish alternative housing options, such as single-room occupancy housing, which consists of dorm-style rooms.
Between 2019 and 2020, more permanent supportive housing units are scheduled to be completed in Salt Lake City, Hardy said.
For more details about the transition timeline, visit homelessutah.org.