SALT LAKE CITY — Amid fierce public pushback against the four new homeless centers, uncertainty about future funding and the efforts of one councilwoman to cut the Sugar House location from the list, Salt Lake City leaders are pushing ahead while still trying to iron out the details.
The expected closing date for The Road Home shelter on Rio Grande Street is also in flux — a topic that sparked concern from one councilman during Tuesday's City Council meeting.
When discussing a draft agreement that Mayor Jackie Biskupski's administration has been in the process of writing — a memorandum of understanding between Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County regarding the homeless resource centers — City Councilman Derek Kitchen balked at a line in the agreement.
It stated the city and county would agree that the downtown shelter would cease operating after all four of the new resource centers are up and running, reflecting a recent vote from Shelter of the Homeless Inc. to close the shelter when the four centers are completed.
"Are you really comfortable with saying that?" Kitchen asked David Litvack, Biskupski's deputy chief of staff.
When Litvack replied yes, that has been the general understanding, Kitchen said he had "huge concerns," worried that it would be bad policy to commit to closing the facility without having a concrete plan in place to draw down all of the demand from the 1,100-bed shelter.
It's been a recurring concern from the public, with questions of how the city's four 150-bed resource centers would be able to serve the full population of the downtown shelter. City and county leaders have insisted affordable housing initiatives and treatment programs will help divert the estimated remaining 600 people in need, but Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams has said the downtown Road Home shelter won't close until those initiatives take in the remaining demand.
"I can't imagine this is good policy," Kitchen said of the draft agreement. "I don't want three shelters in District 4 by any means, but this doesn't make sense to me."
In an interview later that afternoon, Kitchen said he'd be more comfortable with a statement to close the downtown shelter once there's no additional demand for its beds.
"I think we should stop talking about the closure of The Road Home (downtown) until we can get a plan in place for how we're going to get the demand down to zero," he said. "The mayor's got to show us a plan, and then we can talk about closing the shelter."
After the meeting, Litvack said in an interview that the agreement is still in draft form and that Kitchen's concerns will be taken into account.
Biskupski is also slated to present a new citywide affordable housing plan in roughly two weeks — a plan that city leaders have said will be a major piece of the puzzle to make the city's new homeless model work in conjunction with other county services.
Tuesday's discussion also laid out a long road ahead before the four sites can even be approved to break ground.
Planning Director Nick Norris presented to the City Council a timeline for the four shelter sites before they see approval for their facilities — depicting a long-term range of up to about a year and a half for some of the sites.
The 275 W. High Ave. and the 131 E. 700 South sites do not have to go through any zoning amendments to authorize uses for the facility — meaning those sites could see approval in 270 to 360 days, depending on if they are approved through a conditional use process.
The other two sites — 648 W. 100 South and 653 E. Simpson Ave, the most controversial — must undergo zoning changes, adding on roughly another 300 to 400 days.
"We're going to have to pretty aggressively attack our timelines," City Council Chairman Stan Penfold said in an interview after the meeting, adding that he hopes to at least have the first two sites approved by the council by May.
He said city officials are under pressure to show the Utah Legislature the sites are making significant progress in order to secure future funding, but they also "don't want to lose any public process."
Penfold pointed to the three public workshops slated for Wednesday — from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Salt Lake Community College — and Jan. 18 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Nibley Park Elementary — for residents to weigh in on how the sites should be constructed.
In the meantime, City Councilwoman Lisa Adams isn't giving up her proposal to remove the Simpson Avenue site from the list, responding to her neighborhood's outrage over the site.
In Tuesday's meeting, Adams acknowledged that she hasn't had any support from her colleagues, but she again pitched her idea, adding that the reduction from four sites to three sites would result in a size increase for the other shelters.
"We're not seeing eye to eye on this, but I still want to put it out there as a possibility," she said.
There was no discussion on Adams' proposal.