SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – With less than a month before The Road Home is scheduled to close, dozens of rally organizers and participants gathered near the downtown shelter Thursday to push for the delay of its closure.
Last Wednesday after an emergency meeting at the Utah State Capitol with homeless resource advocates, city and state leaders, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox announced that the downtown shelter would be closed at the beginning of December.
“Housing first is the priority and as such, we are announcing a four-week push to get as many homeless individuals in the system housed, in order to decrease the emergency shelter demand. Salt Lake City Housing Authority is taking the lead with support from the state, service providers and other partners,” he said last week.
He explained the swift deadline would require more landlords stepping up after 135 people were housed using this strategy from April to August. The plan also meant a push for residential treatment placement in the 78 new beds at Odyssey House, with no additional overflow options.
“The plan is to decrease the demand with housing, residential treatment beds, and diversion, and then utilize current overflow at St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall, and the use of hotel/motel vouchers,” said Lt. Gov. Cox.
He argued keeping the downtown shelter is not a good option for the following reasons:
- Size: The large building has space for hundreds of people when the potential overflow need is roughly 100
- Safety: The building has too many hallways, open rooms both large and small, that present security concerns
- Costs: Increased staffing and security costs to manage the size of the building
“In order for the new model to be successful, we need to transition from the old system, which means closing the downtown shelter. The sooner we do this, the sooner the focus will truly be on housing first,” he said. “We believe this will always be the best option and we will have a better chance of truly helping the homeless individuals if we get them into housing.”
Rally to delay the closure of the downtown shelter
Organizers of Thursday’s rally said the decision to close the Road Home in the middle of winter was a bad idea, potentially putting some homeless individuals at risk with freezing temperatures.
“This is the worst possible time to close down the shelter. I mean, we’ve already had two people who have passed due to exposure just in October and the winter’s only predicted to get worse,” said Billie Scott, one of the rally organizers.
Scott explained that this is a topic close to her heart because homelessness is something she’s experienced before.
“I’m actually not a Utah native. I moved here in 2013 and shortly after I moved here, I ended up homeless due to circumstances beyond my control. I was in a dangerous situation and I ended up on the streets with no family, no friends, no one to turn to,” she said. “The Road Home overflow was what got me through that and so I could get into a domestic violence shelter.”
Rally organizers said their group has a list of five requests, one of which asks for the closure of the downtown shelter to be pushed to March.
“Just so that way there’s somewhere for people to go during the harshness of the winter,” she said.
The second request asks for state leaders to continue providing the original number of beds available at the Road Home.
“There’s approximately 700 beds between the three news shelters and that’s roughly 400 beds less than the Road Home had provided. That means that there’s going to be 400 more people being turned away for shelter,” said Scott.
Other requests include no arrests or tickets issued for campers until the original number of beds are offered at The Road Home, changing legislation for the three new shelters to provide more beds, and providing free fare for public transportation for those staying at the new shelters.
“The way officials have gone about this is absolutely negligent and it’s very inhumane. That’s the whole point of the rally is just to bring that to people’s attention and to put pressure on Lieutenant Governor Cox to rethink the decision that he and his committee have made. We want to save our homeless population down here,” she said.
Mayor-elect Erin Mendenhall’s stance
During Erin Mendenhall’s first press conference after her win in the Salt Lake City mayoral election Thursday morning, she addressed questions about The Road Home’s closure.
“The city, as you know, doesn’t control The Road Home. The state made that decision. That is one of my day one conversations that I mentioned sitting down with state and county leaders to talk about the homelessness crisis at that broader level,” she said.
Her spokesperson, Ian Koski said Mendenhall has been calling for an emergency plan for the past five months during the early part of the primary election. Although she supports the decision to close The Road Home, Koski said she wants an emergency back-up plan in place first.
For now, Mendenhall told ABC4 News as the South Salt Lake facility opens this week, she will monitor the transition.
“We don’t know how that’s going to affect what we see on the streets today and hopefully the housing and motel vouchers that is in their current plan for dealing with people who don’t fit into the homeless resource centers will be sufficient,” she said. “But if it isn’t, we need to be dynamically responding to the reality on our streets, so that people aren’t turned away and left out to freeze this winter.”