This is where Salt Lake City’s new “temporary shelter” will go

The site will temporarily house up to 50 people this winter but will eventually be moved to a new location selected by the state.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Officials announce the location of a legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City on Thursday, September 14, 2023.

Salt Lake City announced that a vacant lot at the corner of 300 South and 600 West near the Utah Transit Authority Central Station will serve as a “temporary housing development” for unoccupied people this winter until a more permanent location is found.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced the highly anticipated location Thursday afternoon along with State Homeless Services Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser, Salt Lake City Council Member Victoria Petro and Utah Transit Authority Board of Trustees Chair Carlton Christensen.

The country will house up to 50 people with “compassion and humanity,” Mendenhall said at the news conference. The hope is that the pods will provide a necessary alternative for unsheltered people living on the streets who don’t want to go to typical shelters that offer “dorm-style beds.” From there, staff will work to get her into permanent housing.

“It’s never been easier to find a piece of land and say, ‘Take it,'” the mayor said. “Success means safety for residents and the surrounding community and ensuring the sites do not become a magnet for crime and exploitation.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The site of a future legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City on Thursday, September 14, 2023.

The new “shelter community” comes as Salt Lake City – and greater Utah – faces a deepening affordable housing crisis and the number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time is rising. In 2022 alone, 8,637 people in Utah became homeless for the first time. Real estate markets are the least affordable in the state’s history. The state’s average home sales price is more than six times higher than the average household income, according to recent data from the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

Salt Lake City is providing $500,000 for the initial operation of the pilot. The state is procuring the “pods” and allocating $1 million to research and create a permanent version of the shelter community. Mendenhall emphasized that the project was only possible thanks to government support.

Instead of tents, the state will purchase “pod-like” units with lockable doors, electricity, and heating and cooling options. Niederhauser estimated the capsules would cost between $10,000 and $15,000 each. According to the city, there will be emergency personnel on site around the clock and increased “patrols” in the area.

City and state leaders did not announce who would run the shelter, but said a call for proposals would be made next week.

Other Mountain West cities have turned to sanctioned camping as a temporary solution to create safer spaces for vulnerable populations. In Denver, the Safe Outdoor Spaces program serves 150 people in three different encampments across the city, The Tribune reported. This program had a budget of $5 million.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ashley Gomez sits among her belongings after being forced to pack up her tent on Rio Grande Street on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

Also at the press conference was Donald Vogt, who said he has been homeless five times and suggested that 50 spaces would not be enough for the thousands of people who are unsheltered throughout Salt Lake City.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Donald “The First Cowboy” Vogt asks a question as officials announce the location of a legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A no camping sign on the site of a future legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City on Thursday, September 14, 2023.

“You’re telling me you’re going to give 50 out of 7,500 people housing,” Vogt said. “Who will make the selection?”

“We completely agree that there is not enough,” Mendenhall said, “and that there is more than there was in 1983.”

She noted that the new shelter isn’t a solution for everyone, but “it’s the start of a new service model that we’ve never seen before in the state of Utah, and we’ll be in addition to 600 shelter beds” opening in November with the Winter Overflow Plan.”

“This is something we’ve been envisioning for a long time,” Niederhauser said, “and we’ve been planning it for over a year.”

This spring, the pods will be moved to a new location selected and managed by the state.

“These units are mobile, so we can move them from here to the more permanent side,” Niederhauser said. “We will also work as the Office of Homeless Services to create long-term funding for these operations.”

The temporary shelter’s location is just a block from the Rio Grande train station and an area called “Island” where unsheltered people are already camping. It is also across the street from Central Station, where the Amtrak, Frontrunner and TRAX lines converge. The shelter will only operate on-site for 180 days.

The property is in City Councilman Alejandro Puy’s district, which includes Fairpark, Glendale and Poplar Grove, as well as parts of downtown.

“We want this to be a success, to prove that this is a solution for those suffering from homelessness, rather than being pushed from one corner to the other,” Puy said. “I hope this place is a safe place where people can start rebuilding their lives.”

Homelessness is a major issue in the Salt Lake City mayoral race. Former mayor and candidate Rocky Anderson expressed skepticism about today’s announcement. “The answer is not a bunch of expensive housing for 30 to 50 people and you could call it a pilot project,” Anderson said, “after all these years of this homelessness and affordability crisis.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks as officials announce the location of a legal homeless camp in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

Justin Scaccy

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