Why the Salt Lake City mayor changed her mind about a homeless shelter in Ballpark neighborhood

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Thursday withdrew her support for a new homeless shelter proposed in the Ballpark neighborhood of the city.

Mendenhall said she would like to see more homeless resource centers distributed throughout Salt Lake County before supporting another shelter in the city.

"Salt Lake City has contributed considerably more than its fair share to addressing the statewide homelessness crisis," Mendenhall said Thursday in a news release. "However, it is clear that the state needs more emergency shelter beds."

The overflow emergency shelter is proposed for a facility that is currently owned by Volunteers of America Utah at 252 W. Brooklyn Ave. The Utah Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee meets on Sept. 14 and is expected to discuss funding for the shelter.

Mendenhall said she sent a letter to the state's homeless coordinating committee on Tuesday to withdraw her support for the plan. When Mendenhall heard that state funds would possibly go toward a shelter in the Ballpark neighborhood, she initially supported the idea, she said. But when she learned that there was a possibility that the state could locate more shelter beds at a different Salt Lake City location, she withdrew her support.

The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness said last month that at least 300 more beds are needed to make sure unsheltered people have a place to stay at night — an assessment Mendenhall supported, the release said. She also requested that the state support the coalition in getting those beds available as quickly as possible before winter, and that they be located in other cities within the county in addition to Salt Lake City.

But the city already supports 853 beds for unsheltered people, and adding the Brooklyn Avenue building as well as a share of the 300 more beds "would further widen the imbalance of Salt Lake City's capacity," Mendenhall said.

"Salt Lake City represents only 17% of the population of Salt Lake County, but expansion of bed capacity in the countywide homeless services system seems to be predominantly focused here," she said. "New emergency shelter beds must also come online in jurisdictions throughout the county to better balance the system."

City officials have asked Salt Lake County and the state for public safety resources, mental health services and centers that are more equally distributed throughout the state, the mayor said.

“It is simply untenable to ask this city to support two more emergency shelters on top of the 853 beds we already support, let alone to ask the Ballpark community to shoulder another homeless services facility with zero guaranteed support dollars from the state,” she said.

Amy J. Hawkins, a member of the Ballpark Community Council, applauded the mayor’s decision.

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"I'm so glad (Mendenhall) has changed her position and no longer supports siting an additional homeless shelter in Ballpark," Hawkins said on Twitter. "Salt Lake City and the Ballpark neighborhood have contributed considerably more than their fair share to addressing the Statewide homelessness crisis."

Several others on social media criticized the mayor's decision to withdraw support for the shelter.

"A number of our organizers live in and around Ballpark. If you count the dozens of car campers, the homeless camps along west temple, 300 West, and around Ballpark Trax, there are at least 150 homeless Ballpark community members this shelter could have helped. Shame," Wasatch Tenants United, a renter organization and advocacy group, tweeted.

Open Air Shelter Coalition SLC, a homeless advocacy organization, also blasted Mendenhall's decision.

"Yet again showing us that despite the platform you ran on, unhoused people are your last priority," the group tweeted.

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