Utah is pursuing a homeless relief plan for the NBA All-Star Game weekend

The region’s vulnerable population will have access to celebratory snacks and a special dinner next Sunday when the NBA All-Star Game takes over the Utah capital.

That’s thanks to a nearly $40,000 plan to bolster resources for the homeless as tens of thousands of visitors descend on Salt Lake City.

Unhoused Utahans are looking forward to the game, state officials say, and the watch parties will give them a chance to see the action at homeless shelters.

“They’re just as interested as everyone else,” said Tricia Davis, deputy director of the state’s Office of Homeless Services.

The Watch parties are just part of the homeless outreach plan for All-Star Weekend, scheduled for February 17-19. The state intends to spend at least $37,000 on a variety of resources, including a temporary shelter that can accommodate up to 90 people, additional transportation services, and an increase in staff at existing shelters.

“For the safety of all people, including our homeless friends, we wanted to … provide places to warm up and sleep as the population of Salt Lake City will increase,” Wayne Niederhauser, the Utah homelessness coordinator, said. “And this is for the safety of them and those to come.”

The plan is the result of months of meetings between the state, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and service providers.

Niederhauser insists the extra effort isn’t to keep vulnerable Utahns out of the public eye while Salt Lake City is in the national spotlight.

“In our discussions with the county, the city and the coalition, our goal,” he said, “is that this is a kind of intense time and if we can react a little better during this time, it will also be very helpful for those who affected by homelessness.”

Niederhauser said unhoused Utahans are at risk of further confrontation, which can pose additional challenges for them if police get involved.

“That would be more helpful for them to get into a day program,” said Niederhauser, “[and] have an extra place to go at night if they want to.”

Where will the money go?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Displaced residents camping along 500 West pack their belongings before Salt Lake City’s Rapid Intervention Team moves in to clean up the site, Thursday, February 2, 2023.

Funding will come from the reallocation of existing contracts and the final proceeds from the sale of the Rio Grande property. The Utah Homelessness Council voted Thursday to allow the state to use that approximately $415,000 towards any winter overflow costs that may arise.

Spending amounts for the All-Star Weekend are expected to be finalized on Friday.

Most of that money — nearly $26,000 — will be used to get contractor workers to work weekend shifts.

More than $4,000 would be provided for temporary accommodation from Sunday noon to Monday 10 a.m. at the Central City Recreation Center, 615 S. 300 East. The centre, which was used as emergency shelter during a cold snap last month, can accommodate 90 people on matchday.

Niederhauser expects the temporary housing will bring the total cost of the response closer to $40,000.

Nearly $7,000 will be used towards meals and snacks for the Watch parties at the Homeless Resource Centers during the February 19th game. Davis said watch parties for big events like the Super Bowl are nothing new to shelters.

Food and beverages are available at the Gail Miller Resource Center, Geraldine E. King Resource Center and Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake City, and the Pamela Atkinson Resource Center in South Salt Lake.

Watch parties are also offered at the Salt Lake Rescue Mission and the Weigand Homeless Resource Center Daycare.

A watch party at the Gallivan Center is open to all.

Bill Tibbitts, deputy executive director of the Crossroads Urban Center, said the plan seems a little late, but he won’t complain about vulnerable residents having another warm place to go or access to a good meal.

“It’s great that they want to throw a party for the people in the resource centers,” he said. “You don’t get much of it, so I won’t complain about it.”

A question of political will or lack of demand?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Displaced residents camping along 500 West pack their belongings before Salt Lake City’s Rapid Intervention Team moves in to clean up the site, Thursday, February 2, 2023.

Tibbitts said the opening of a temporary overflow shelter next weekend underscores the region’s need for more beds throughout the winter.

“It’s definitely unfortunate because the political will to have a fully adequate overflow protection system at a major media event is greater,” he said, “than at other times.”

Niederhauser said additional resources could be available at any time, but the need just wasn’t there. The funding, approved Thursday by the Utah Homelessness Council, he said, will give executives the flexibility to increase resources as demand increases.

Davis, deputy director of the Office of Homeless Services, said providing additional resources doesn’t come down to funding alone. Service providers are already facing staffing issues, she said, making it difficult for them to offer additional services over a long period of time.

“So the response has been to respond when really specific things come up,” Davis said, “due to the capacity of our service providers.”

No plans for additional cleanup

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Campers lug their belongings across the street on Thursday, February 2, 2023.

Just because additional resources will be available next weekend, Niederhauser said, doesn’t mean Utahns affected by homelessness will be forced to use them.

“As for the state and our involvement in it,” he said, “you have your freedom, you make your decisions, and if there’s a local issue with that, then that’s up to the local government.”

Andrew Johnston, Salt Lake City’s director of homelessness policy and outreach, said the city has no plans to step up enforcement and force vulnerable residents to attend the watch parties or use the additional resources. Any cleanup being undertaken, he said, is designed to meet public health needs.

Johnston said his team will work to ensure sidewalks around Vivint Arena are clear if problems arise while streets are closed for celebrations. The city will continue its routine enforcement across the city while also focusing on keeping streets like 200 South or 500 West as clear as possible.

“But there’s no effort,” he said, “in taking everyone anywhere else at all.”

And, he said, there is no concerted effort to hide vulnerable residents from visitors.

“Obviously we know the blocks around downtown will get a lot of attention, but most people don’t set up camp there,” he said. “So really, that wasn’t the intent and focus for us at all.”

Jean Hill, director of Salt Lake County’s Office of Criminal Justice Initiatives, said the All-Star Game will not affect how camp purges are conducted. These measures, she said, will be based on health risks.

“When things get bad,” she said, “then there has to be a cleanup to prevent people from getting one of the bad illnesses that come with some of the things that are happening.”

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2023/02/09/utahs-plan-unhoused-during-nba/ Utah is pursuing a homeless relief plan for the NBA All-Star Game weekend

Justin Scaccy

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