A committee formed by residents of the Salt Lake Homeless Shelter is upset by a new shelter policy that prohibits visitor access to the residential areas of the facility and say the policy is aimed at preventing them from holding meetings.
Donna Gibbler, family shelter director, said the policy is meant to improve security at the shelter, not harass and manipulate committee members."Many of our guests have asked for a more secure system, one to protect their rights," Gibbler said. "We felt the best way to do that was to limit visiting to the lobby area."
Mike McNair, a committee member, said he believes Gibbler and other staff members are not being responsive to the needs and concerns of shelter residents. He said policy decisions are whimsical and stymie efforts to communicate concerns and work with the shelter staff to achieve remedies.
"We've earnestly pursued the idea of better communication between staff and residents," McNair said. "We wanted to help improve situations that are creating friction."
McNair said the committee is preparing a letter outlining grievances that will be hand-delivered to Gibbler later this week. He said copies will also go to Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, Gov. Norm Bangerter and a number of legislators.
Gibbler said administrators have tried to work with committee members. Among those efforts are an experimental program that gives shelter residents limited access to a microwave oven, installation of a courtesy telephone to improve getting messages to shelter residents and pursuing new community efforts to make evening meals available to the residents.
Problems with alcohol, drugs and inappropriate sexual behavior prompted the visitation limits, Gibbler said.
"We don't frisk or search people when they come to the shelter and we don't want to have to start doing that," Gibbler said. "We felt the only way we could make things more secure without installing security guards and searching people was to limit access to the residential areas."
McNair said the group also has concerns about access to donated materials to the shelter and some equipment-safety concerns - especially guard rails on bunk beds. McNair said there have been several accidents involving the beds.
Gibbler said most of the concerns raised are being investigated. She said efforts have been made to keep residents appraised of the progress.
"There isn't a magic wand that we can wave and solve all of these problems. I wish there were," Gibbler lamented. "We do care and we are trying our best. We want to work with the committee and I hope we can resolve these problems.
"I recognize that I'm the director and much of the anger is focused at me," she continued. "I understand and accept that and I don't take it personally. We want to help and we will respond as fast as we can."