SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Signs with messages such as ‘Yes in my backyard!’ and ‘Welcome, neighbors!’ can now be seen at the entrance of the temporary emergency homeless shelter in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City.
Residents said they wanted their new neighbors to feel right at home, a stark contrast to the sentiment three years ago when the city considered a permanent shelter in the area.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall made the announcement Thursday of a temporary overflow shelter at the former Deseret Industries Thrift Store on 2234 S. Highland Drive. This came months after homeless activists raised concerns about capacity at the three new homeless resource centers after the closure of The Road Home.
Monday morning, dozens of Sugar House residents gathered at the temporary shelter to make welcome signs and donate truckloads winter clothing for the homeless.
“I hope that this shows that we believe that every person is worthy of dignity, they’re worthy of shelter, they’re worthy of our kindness and our compassion. Maybe, just maybe, if they feel that, then it will help them on their way to finding and accessing resources,” said Amy Fowler, Salt Lake City Councilmember for District 7. “We are going to try and make sure that human beings don’t suffer.”
Three years ago, a number of Sugar House residents raised concerns when Salt Lake City officials considered a proposed homeless shelter at 653 E. Simpson Avenue. At the time, some said they were upset that the public didn’t get a say on the location before the announcement and showed up at the state legislature to ask lawmakers to pull funding from the city. Officials eventually backed out of the property deal a couple months later.
Resident Heidi Schubert, who was at the welcoming event Monday, said while she understands the concerns some of her neighbors have, she believes the entire city should share the burden of caring for the homeless.
“Do we spend a lot of taxpayer resources or do we use our resources efficiently and put them in places we already have? I think some of the downtown areas complained that they’ve shared the burden too long, but resources are much more centralized. On the east side, resources are very, very expensive,” she said. “I know that even if I want to spread it out, I can’t have the city paying top dollar for a location that’s really not as effective for the homeless.”
Living in the area for 10 years, Schubert explained the former D.I. building has been through several tenants and shouldn’t sit vacant when there are individuals nearby with housing needs.
“We have homeless in the community already. Fairmont Park is just next door. There’s a covered picnic area there and the homeless do set up shop there in the afternoon. You see them getting out of the rain and so they’re already nearby. I would like them to be able to have facilities to use,” said Schubert. “There’s no reason they should be camping on top of a park if they can come to a building.”
Councilmember Fowler said seeing her constituents display acts of kindness showed that they are breaking down stereotypes and stigmas surrounding the homeless community.
“I think sometimes those concerns are fueled by fear and instead of compassion. I think what we’re seeing today is that our community really wanted to instead, fuel that with compassion and empathy. They want to get past all of the generalizations and say, ‘This is still a human being and we don’t want human beings to suffer,'” she said. “This is particularly awesome on today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as we celebrate a man who inspired us to act with love and compassion and empathy, and that is exactly what we’re seeing today.”
The temporary winter site will have 145 beds for overnight stays only with transportation provided to and from the Weigand Shelter in the morning. The new shelter is set to open in the next week, but will close in the spring around April 15th.
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