Proponents of the new family and single men's homeless shelter are working with the business community to solve problems and alleviate fears about placement of the shelter, according to the coordinator for the Salt Lake Homeless Council.
Stephen Holbrook told participants in the Utahns Against Hunger Anti-Hunger Conference Thursday that a committee has been established by Mayor Palmer DePaulis to examine "things that can be done in a humane way" about problems created by the one-third of the homeless population that engages in alcohol abuse and panhandling."I'm particularly concerned because the homeless themselves are victims of street people violence," Holbrook said. "It's to everyone's advantage to deal with the problems up front. We're doing something to try to work with the business community, but some of them will never be satisfied. We chose a neighborhood with as few retail businesses as any location in the valley."
Retailers in the neighborhood of the new shelter, located at Fourth West and Second South, fear their businesses will be hurt by the homeless population. A major concern is a liquor store at Second West and Fourth South that some retailers claim contributes to the problem.
"What business wants is to close that liquor store," Holbrook said. "I think that just shifts the problem somewhere else without dealing with it." He said retailers have also proposed removing certain cheap wines, apparently favored by the homeless population, from the shelves, an idea Holbrook doesn't think will help.
"Right now, we are working on a number of ideas. For one thing, we need more detox beds. And quicker police response when there are problems." The committee is also considering issuing courtesy cards that can be given to panhandlers instead of money. The cards list services that are available to the homeless, including food kitchens and pantries, shelters and social service agencies.
Holbrook attributes the sharp increase in the number of homeless to several things, including the growth of the Salt Lake area itself. "You can't advertise how great we are and expect only the rich people to hear it," he said.
The move to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill in the late '70s also contributed to the problem, because no one "built mental health spots for those people." At the same time, alcohol and drug programs, as well as mental health and other social service programs have taken consistent cuts, or remained revenue-flat, despite inflation. He also blamed the "change in the nature of the family over the past 30 years. We have a large number of people without any regular contact with family members or friends."
Finally, the economy has taken some "strange turns, and I don't think anyone really knows where it's going," Holbrook said. "People are more easily displaced."
The solution, he said, is to establish some type of national economic policy about where we really want to go. "Right now, our policy pits the rich against the poor, and the middle class is losing.
"If you don't pay for helping people up front, you pay with increased societal costs and police costs. We might as well do it up front."