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Salt Lake leaders ask others to ‘do their part’ for homeless after winter shelter sited in city

SHARE Salt Lake leaders ask others to ‘do their part’ for homeless after winter shelter sited in city

The temporary Sugar House homeless shelter at 2234 S. Highland Drive in Salt Lake City is pictured in April. Salt Lake officials have agreed to this year’s overflow shelter to be housed at the Airport Inn Hotel west of downtown.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness on Friday announced a second location for a winter overflow center in Salt Lake City, city leaders expressed frustration that they must again step in to address the needs of the homeless community.

The proposed location, Airport Inn Hotel at 2333 W. North Temple, would add between 100-120 additional beds, according to the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness.

During a special session on Friday, the Salt Lake City Council passed a temporary land use regulation to allow the hotel to be used as a homeless shelter. The regulation will expire in April.

“Salt Lake City has often risen above and beyond our role and our resources to make sure everyone has the option of a warm, safe place to sleep, but let’s be clear: it is not Salt Lake City’s role to address the statewide problem of too few shelter beds,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a statement.

She noted the city had to “help fill gaps” for the second year in a row.

“The system of determining sufficient winter shelter as it currently stands is dysfunctional and a disservice to the service providers, residents and businesses in the area, and most of all, to individuals experiencing homelessness,” Mendenhall said, while adding that she empathizes with the coalition tasked with planning for the needs of the homeless community.

The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness “has been given the charge by the state Legislature to secure winter shelter without the staffing, funding or authority to actually do so. It’s an untenable situation that is set up to fail. We must do better. All of our government partners must be willing to do their part,” Mendenhall said.

Last week, the homelessness coalition announced a first winter overflow center in Millcreek. Both the Millcreek and Salt Lake temporary shelters will be operated by Switchpoint, which manages the St. George homeless shelter.

In mid-November, homelessness officials hoped to finalize plans to use the La Quinta Inn east of the Midvale Family Shelter on 7200 South until Midvale Mayor Robert Hale opposed the plan.

Hale said the small city and its police force couldn’t sustain more impacts from the homeless community. The area around the La Quinta, Hale said in November, is already a “crime spot.”

“I applaud the city of Millcreek for supporting the 60-bed temporary transitional housing that opened this week. I commend our Salt Lake City Council for acting quickly to respond to the coalition’s request for necessary, formal action to allow a shelter with twice as many beds in our city,” Mendenhall said, asking other cities to “become active participants in this conversation.”

“Salt Lake City knows it’s hard, it’s unpopular, and it stretches already overstretched resources, but ensuring people have access to shelter is the right thing to do,” Mendenhall said.

Salt Lake City Councilwoman Ana Valdemoros expressed frustration that the plans are being finalized “at the eleventh hour.”

“My hope is that we’re not having this same conversation again next year. Salt Lake City has gone above and beyond hosting many shelters and providing resources to help our homeless neighbors,” Valdemoros said.

Like Mendenhall, she called for neighboring cities to ramp up their efforts to help the homeless community, calling it “an opportunity for the entire state of Utah to do what we do best: Serve and take care of our neighbors.”

The proposed hotel would place the county’s emergency and overflow shelter capacity at between 1,944 and 2,030 beds, which officials say is over 200 more than were available last winter.

The hotel closed due to a “severe traveler” drop at the Salt Lake City International Airport during the pandemic and planned to renovate, officials said, enabling it to be used for a temporary overflow shelter until spring. The shelter will focus on offering beds for couples, officials said.

“We are grateful to Salt Lake City for once again stepping up to support the state’s unsheltered population through the winter months and we are so thankful to the owner of the Airport Inn Hotel for coming to the table with a creative solution to the winter shelter needs,” Jean Hill, co-chairwoman of the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, said in a statement.

“Because of the pandemic it was critical for us to find a space that would allow for adequate distancing between individuals or households, and the unique opportunity of utilizing hotel rooms also allows us to shelter more couples, which is an acute need right now,” Carol Hollowell, executive director of Switchpoint, said in the statement.

After the contract with the hotel owner gets approved, the shelter will open two weeks later and will operate 24 hours a day with transportation, meal service and access to other services, officials said.

The coalition has a “community mitigation plan” in place to address concerns of impacts to the neighborhood.

“We know Salt Lake City’s west-side communities have taken on a large share of the services for people in need, and we are committed to being partners with the community in meeting their evolving needs related to this location. We are also working to establish long-term solutions that engage other municipalities in our countywide efforts to render homelessness brief, rare and nonrecurring,” Hill said.