At this stage in Salt Lake City’s pursuit of helping the homeless population, claiming the efforts won’t succeed without keeping the Road Home open presents a false choice. Leaders embrace the new model, the transition to new shelters is in its final stages and adequate numbers of beds can be produced with concerted cooperation among community members. 

The emphasis in the coming weeks, then, needs to be making sure that model keeps pace with demand and ensuring Utah’s most vulnerable don’t slip through the cracks.

That should begin by amplifying the work leaders initiated two weeks ago to seek out overflow shelter through partnerships in the community. That “housing push” will utilize $1 million of state and city resources to subsidize housing, calling on landlords to assess their inventory for available beds while continuing to work with local hotels, motels and churches to shelter those people the new resource centers cannot.

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The problem isn’t entirely a matter of the new resource centers having too few beds, although it is concerning the most basic function of sheltering the homeless on a cold winter’s night is not guaranteed without the use of emergency operations. Nevertheless, we agree with the underlying premise of the change: to focus on long-term housing rather than emergency sheltering. In theory, quickly moving residents into housing would reduce the number of people seeking a one-night stay.

What city, county and state leaders did not anticipate is people staying in the shelters longer than expected. That means efforts to transition people into housing aren’t keeping up with demand.

To reassure the community and clear up misconceptions, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox took to Twitter, stating “NO ONE will be turned away and left in the cold.” He also delineated how the extra beds would materialize: Odyssey House is offering 72 beds, which Cox says will especially help those with addictions, and up to 50 motel vouchers will come in addition to those already secured. That, according to Cox, brings the total number of beds to around 950, which is closer to bridging the gap between the resource centers’ 700 and the downtown shelter’s max of 1,100.

And reasons exist to be wary of relying on the Road Home. A scathing state audit found drug abuse and security concerns within the shelter, issues that were indicative of the larger Rio Grande area at the time. Moving away from the Road Home would be helpful in reshaping the image and reputation of that block and guiding homeless people toward cleaner shelters.

Additionally, the downtown shelter is large, and it would make little financial sense to continue operating a spacious warehouse if 100 beds is all the city needs. 

The best course for now is to double down on efforts to transition the homeless into housing, which would free up space in the resource centers while focusing on giving Utah’s most vulnerable a hand up in securing a permanent living situation. It will take a village, as the adage goes, but it’s nothing Utahns couldn’t accomplish with committed cooperation and a charitable heart.