The Democratic National Convention has called all week for more help for the homeless. Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis spent Thursday learning how to convert such talk into action.
While other delegates were doing some last-day sightseeing and shopping, DePaulis toured one of Atlanta's 52 shelters for the homeless to learn how to avoid some of the problems Atlanta faces."There are some real differences between our situation and Atlanta's. It is already out of control here, and has spread to every neighborhood. All they are able to do is a little crisis management.
"We're in far better shape and are out ahead of the problem a bit. I think we can keep it from spreading to the neighborhoods if we take the right action," he said. "The only neighborhood with a real problem back home is around the Pioneer Park area."
Salt Lake City plans to open its first permanent shelter for the homeless in November, when other temporary shelters for families and men will close.
"We will have a first-class facility in terms of dignity for those served. All the facilities we saw here are very rudimentary," he said.
Atlanta officials also gave DePaulis a preview of problems that Salt Lake City may expect if the homeless problem continues to grow.
"First, they say everyone wants shelters for the homeless - but not in their neighborhood. Siting is a real problem. People want them outside the city or in ghetto areas."
DePaulis said the next question that always comes up is whether building homeless shelters attracts even more homeless to a city.
"They say it doesn't. But the problem is growing, and the homeless are everywhere sleeping under cardboard boxes or on benches. So the question becomes do we deal with it, or don't we. If we do something about it, we may be able to keep the problem from spreading into the neighborhoods," he said.
An unexpected problem that Atlanta found is that once a shelter is put into a ghetto area, it spurs a cleanup of the area, which brings new development and "gentrifica-tion" of old houses by new higher-class residents, who then want the shelter moved to an area farther away.
"I said that's good if you want to improve a lot of different slum areas, but they said they don't have the money or expertise for that," DePaulis said.
Atlanta also operates its shelters somewhat differently than Salt Lake City. Most shelters in Atlanta are actually operated by churches in their own buildings or nearby, and the city has a task force to coordinate activities and support.
"It seems like every little Baptist or Catholic church has its own little shelter. Some churches spread out beds on the floors, then roll them to hold services."
Besides providing just a place to sleep, shelters in Atlanta also provide meals and counseling. Such services have generally been provided by other agencies in Salt Lake City.
One thing that Atlanta does not have is a school for children staying in its shelters. "Our shelter is one of the few in the nation that has one," DePaulis said.
Atlanta officials are proud of their work with the homeless, but they also got them off the streets for the convention. Homeless people who were living on the streets and not in shelters - including dozen or so who were actually living in a dead-end tunnel under the Omni itself - were rounded up by police and social workers and sent to shelters during the Democrats' stay in Atlanta.
While DePaulis was learning more about the homeless, other delegates finished up last-minute business.
The delegation gave a variety of presents to volunteers who had served as hosts, including "Democrats: A pretty, great party" posters, souvenir pins and hats representing the Utah Jazz, Salt Lake Golden Eagles and the Novelle computer company, which designed the software used by the convention's computers.
Delegates themselves were also offered souvenir posters from a company that has been recycling the 15 tons of newspapers and magazines that delegates have been reading each day at the convention. The posters were made from paper discarded by conventioneers on Monday.