We all understand the reality: Salt Lake City continues to experience a humanitarian crisis in our own backyard. In spite of previous and praiseworthy work to solve chronic homelessness, we know there are still far too many people in need of help in our city, too many sleeping in parks and under bridges and living in their cars. And too many suffer every day with untreated mental illness and addiction.
Salt Lake City pioneered supportive programs for people experiencing homelessness. Ours was the first city in Utah to provide year-round shelter when the numbers of homeless people began to rocket in the mid-‘80s. For years, our residents and businesses have worked with dozens of programs that address the challenges of homelessness.
The work continues, and with new state funding and a commitment from leaders around the state, we are in a unique place to find lasting and statewide solutions to homelessness.
In the coming week, residents will have another unique opportunity to help shape the future of homeless services in the capital city. The Salt Lake City Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission, led by former mayor Palmer DePaulis and Gail Miller, will host public workshops in four diverse neighborhoods to gather residents’ priorities on criteria for putting two new homeless resource centers in our community, the first of many to be located around the state.
These centers — both in design and function — will redefine our approach to addressing homelessness. We are embracing a more holistic and targeted approach. The new homeless resource centers will each be capped at 250 beds. The buildings will provide easy access to overnight shelter, day services, medical and behavioral health support, detox services and more. They will be aesthetically pleasing and integrate into surrounding neighborhoods.
We don’t have to go far to see how well this model can work. Last month, the Volunteers of America opened its Homeless Youth Resource Center at 888 S. 400 West to rave reviews from service providers and neighbors. For decades, YWCA Utah has sponsored housing and services for women and their children who are escaping domestic violence. The YWCA campus has quietly and efficiently expanded at 300 South and 300 East to include housing for teen mothers and other support services at the Family Justice Center. Meanwhile, the neighborhood continues to grow, with some of the most vibrant real estate in town.
Locations for new homeless resource centers have not been selected, and we know robust public input about the site criteria will help us make the right choices. Next week’s community workshops will help define and prioritize the criteria in a way that best supports those experiencing homelessness, city residents and surrounding businesses.
We will undoubtedly share candid conversations in this process. I am confident, though, this work will truly alter the landscape of homelessness in the capital city and will be used as a model for the rest of Utah.
Getting to this point has required the courage and dedication of many people, including leaders like Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini, who bravely stepped up and agreed to keep the homeless family facility open year-round in her city, who did so because she knew it was the right thing to do.
I trust Salt Lake City to act accordingly, to unify and to do the right thing. We will speak with a voice both productive and compassionate, because our fellow human beings are suffering, and we can help.
We need you now. We have to get this right, and I know we will with your help.
The schedule for community workshops to address criteria for homeless resource centers is as follows (all meetings run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.):
June 13, Sorenson Unity Center, 1383 S. 900 West
June 15, The Leonardo, 209 E. 500 South
June 16, Dilworth Elementary, 1953 S. 2100 East
June 20, Marmalade Library, 280 W. 500 North
Jackie Biskupski is mayor of Salt Lake City.