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Salt Lake City mayor bans new homeless shelters for next 6 months

Kseniya Kniazeva, executive director of Nomad Alliance, speaks to Jason Gove about obtaining a new wheelchair for him.
Kseniya Kniazeva, executive director of Nomad Alliance, speaks to Jason Gove about obtaining a new wheelchair for him on Rio Grande Street in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall wants to ban the creation of any new, permanent homeless shelters in her city for the next six months.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall wants to ban the creation of any new, permanent homeless shelters in her city for the next six months.

The aim, she said, is to take the time to chart a new course for homeless services in Salt Lake City and prevent Utah’s capital from taking on a higher burden than other cities across the Wasatch Front and the state.

The move comes after Mendenhall withdrew her support for a new homeless shelter proposed in the Ballpark neighborhood, saying she would like to see more homeless services distributed throughout Salt Lake County before supporting another shelter in the city.

“Salt Lake City, and more specifically, certain districts in the city, bear a higher responsibility than other municipalities in the state to provide shelter and services to the state’s homeless population, and now is a crucial time for us to pause and chart a new, more balanced path forward in our plans for how those services take shape within the city,” Mendenhall said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday.

The mayor on Monday initiated a petition to ban any new permanent Salt Lake City homeless shelters “in order to ensure that the location and type of homeless shelters and services in the city are carefully addressed,” her office stated in a news release.

Over the next six months, city leaders can consider a new ordinance to determine what types of conditional use permits for shelters they approve going forward and consider whether to “distinguish between temporary and permanent shelters in the city land use processes,” Mendenhall’s office stated.

“By taking this step my goal is to help ensure that as a city we are more prescriptive in the process that would allow any new permanent shelters to operate within Salt Lake City,” Mendenhall said.

The mayor’s petition does not ban the city from considering potential temporary shelters if a provider proposes a site in a zone that currently permits homeless shelters.

The mayor withdrew her support from the proposed emergency overflow shelter at 252 W. Brooklyn Ave. at a facility currently owned by Volunteers of America Utah after she learned the $3 million in state funds approved by the Utah Homelessness Council could be used to locate more shelter beds at a different location.

Her petition also comes after she supported a report by the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness last month that called for at least 300 more emergency shelter beds to ensure unsheltered people have somewhere to stay, especially heading into this winter.

If city officials decide to move forward with a new ordinance to place more guardrails around what types of future homeless shelters get approved within the city, it will undergo review and recommendation by the Salt Lake City Planning Commission and be subject to approval by the Salt Lake City Council.

For the overflow homeless shelter in Ballpark to become a reality, the proposal would still need to go through a public land use approval process from city officials.