Salt Lake Valley homeless shelters still have room as snow and cold conditions drive

Persistent snowfall and freezing temperatures have fueled demand for housing in the Salt Lake Valley, but state and local politicians say the region has offered enough beds to keep residents off the streets when they’d rather stay indoors.

Of the roughly 1,000 beds available at a network of shelters for unplaced Utahans, an average of about 100 were unoccupied during the reporting week that ended Tuesday.

“If there’s a big surge, it’s going to be difficult to meet all that demand,” said homeless czar Wayne Niederhauser. “But so far we haven’t had a night where we’ve had more demand than supply.”

Still, the dangers of the roads resurfaced early Friday when police reported finding a person dead at a small camp west of Rio Grande Depot in Salt Lake City. Officials said they did not know the person’s name, age, gender or cause of death.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The area behind the Rio Grande Depot, 500 W. 300 South, where Utah homeless people live in makeshift tents and shelters, December 16, 2022.

To guard against the threat of not having enough space to accommodate, Niederhauser and other officials meet weekly to discuss how to adjust the regional homelessness response during the coldest months and what to do if a sudden surge occurs .

This week, amid unrelenting snowstorms, resource centers for the homeless began operating their winter overflow beds 24 hours a day instead of exclusively overnight.

Volunteers of America has expanded the number of beds at its youth home and put all hands on deck to help vulnerable residents.

Niederhauser said the response of this year’s emergency shelter scheme is an improvement on previous efforts, with extra beds becoming available sooner.

“We’re so much further ahead this year than we were last year,” he said, “or the year before.”

The state forced local leaders to come up with a plan for a winter overflow shelter by September. As a result of this mandate, the temporary accommodation facility at Millcreek, which can accommodate up to 100 people, is open with beds available and has been operational for weeks. Last year temporary winter accommodation was not available until January.

Andrew Johnston, Salt Lake City’s director of homelessness policy and public relations, said planning for the winter measures took months.

And the overflow system, he said, is working as it should, although staffing hiccups have led to some limitations.

“Everyone works really hard,” he said, “to make sure we have enough resources.”

intensification of the range

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The area behind the Rio Grande Depot, 500 W. 300 South, where Utah homeless people live in makeshift tents and shelters, December 16, 2022.

One such person is Amanda Christensen, who oversees outreach efforts for Volunteers of America, Utah.

Christensen said VOA workers let unprotected residents know how to access overflow beds and the general protection system, figure out what supplies they need, check for frostbite issues, educate them on how to keep their extremities dry, and they let you know what indoor spaces are available during the day.

She said her team is using workers from across the organization to help Utahns who are sleeping outside.

“Right now, as this is an emerging need,” she said, “we’re withdrawing all staff to do outreach wherever we have capacity.”

The organization’s youth resource center, meanwhile, expanded its capacity from 30 beds to 50 after Salt Lake City granted the center a temporary permit to do so.

According to Dani Nives, who oversees the youth center, this expanded program is already being used. She said 34 unprotected youths remained at the resource center near 900 South and 400 West Wednesday night.

“Our outreach teams are working with youth who have historically wanted to stay in tents to say, ‘Hey, there are more beds, please come in,'” Nives said, “and spread the word.”

Where do vulnerable families go?

Bill Tibbitts, deputy chief executive of the Crossroads Urban Center, acknowledged that this year’s winter response has been an improvement, but said officials are facing a new challenge: a bevy of families seeking shelter.

The available overflow beds are for single adults only, not families.

“We’re in a better place,” he said, “but we didn’t worry about families with children because we didn’t have any problems. There were no families with children who were turned away last winter.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The area behind the Rio Grande Depot, 500 W. 300 South, where Utah homeless people live in makeshift tents and shelters, December 16, 2022.

Michelle Flynn, executive director of The Road Home, said the Midvale Family Resource Center, which runs her organization, is at full capacity.

Still, she said, The Road Home won’t turn families away if they’re vulnerable and need a place to stay, even if it means they’re allowed to sleep in the shelter’s recreation room until a better option becomes available.

“If a family calls and wants to come in but has a place to stay for at least a day or two, we’ve told people we can’t bring them in yet,” Flynn said. “But if a family is homeless and willing to come in, we will definitely find a place for them that day.”

The state has given The Road Home $400,000 for motel coupons and wants to expand the coupon program with another provider.

Eliminate the need for an overflow?

Salt Lake City hopes to completely eliminate the need for winter overflow shelters by accelerating construction of permanent supportive shelters.

This week, the city council approved a $6 million cash injection for three projects that would help keep more than 450 people off the streets. Most of these beds are expected to be available until the winter accommodation closes.

In addition, the city planning commission approved a proposal that would allow homeless shelters in most areas of Utah’s capital, a move aimed at creating a more equitable distribution of social services.

The city council has until May to decide on the measure.

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/12/17/snow-piles-up-temperatures-drop/ Salt Lake Valley homeless shelters still have room as snow and cold conditions drive

Justin Scacco

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