By Marjorie Cortez, Deseret News
Advocates for homeless and low-income people proposed Thursday that Salt Lake City issue a $30 million bond to fund a new shelter for women and children, and build 800 units of permanent supportive housing, among other improvements.
Glenn Bailey, executive director of Crossroads Urban Center, which advocates for low-income Utahns, unveiled a two-track proposal for “immediate” and “big-picture” solutions intended to address the issue of homelessness in Salt Lake City.
“The problem with homelessness is really twofold in our view. One, there are too many people coming into the system because the rent’s too high. If that gets worse, we’re only going to see more people entering the homeless services system. The other problem is we need to get people out of the system once they’re in,” Bailey said.
The Our City Leads plan was prepared by Crossroads Urban Center with input from homeless services providers. Representatives of nonprofit organizations that serve the poor and homeless, as well as clergy, lent their support to the recommendations.
The report proposes immediate steps that could be tackled within a year and cost $5 million to $10 million in city funds.
Immediate solutions include:
- Closure of Rio Grande Street between 200 South and 300 South to halt drive-through drug trade and provide more space for service providers.
- Double funds for rental assistance programs to quickly move families out of the shelter.
- Double jail diversion beds available at Volunteers of America Utah’s detox center.
- Fund three new, dedicated beds for homeless people with severe mental health issues at the University Neuropsychological Institute, and three new substance treatment beds.
“Of course all of this would be easier if the state adopted a Medicaid expansion plan,” Bailey said.
Long-term solutions call for the issuance of a $30 million general obligation bond, which would cost the average homeowner $1 to $1.50 in additional property tax annually over the 20-year life of the bond.
“Big-picture” steps would take two to 10 years to accomplish. They would include:
- Spend $16 million to jumpstart development of 800 permanent supportive housing units such as Palmer Court.
- Spend $10 million for a new facility for homeless families apart from the Rio Grande corridor.
- Spend $4 million to renovate The Road Home and Catholic Community Services’ shelter and day services on Rio Grande Street.
- Launch a low-income housing task force in Salt Lake City charged with long-term financing, strategy and support for affordable housing.
Advocates released Our City Leads as a pair of commissions, one impaneled by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and the other by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, to study the state of homeless facilities and service delivery.
The city commission is not expected to deliver its recommendations until after the November election.
“We wanted to get this out now because we understand they’re developing scenarios that they’re going to start taking comment on and circulating,” Bailey said. “It isn’t until after the election that they have a meeting and another public input process, followed by some sort of decision in December. So we wanted to be ahead of the tail end of their process and say, ‘This is what we think should be done.'”
Gary Carr, who has lived at The Road Home shelter with his 7-year-old daughter, Samantha, for three weeks after losing their housing due to medical bills, said he believes effective law enforcement and programs that teach parenting and how to gain employment are higher priorities than a new family shelter away from the Rio Grande corridor.
Carr said he was assaulted while crossing the street after dinner one night. He needed nearly 30 stitches to repair the injuries to his face, he said.
“You can move it across the country or put it on an island and it’s not going to work unless you put some programs in it,” Carr said.