SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of worried and frustrated West Valley City and South Salt Lake residents protested the now seven sites under consideration for a new homeless resource center on Wednesday.
The crowd overflowed from multiple committee rooms at the Utah Capitol, with more than 100 lined up to tell the county's newly convened site evaluation committee a common message:
Not in our city. Not on the west side.
It was the first opportunity for the public to face the committee that will — in less than a week — help Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams make a recommendation to the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee, which will ultimately choose which city will land a new homeless resource center.
Despite multiple requests from McAdams to refrain from applause to maintain decorum in the meeting, the crowd repeatedly cheered on speakers who protested the sites and decried the fast-tracked process to choose a site by the March 30 deadline — required under state law passed this year to overhaul the state and county's troubled homeless services model.
The room erupted in cheers after South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood said her community of 24,000 — the second smallest in the county — is being "targeted by those that think our voices are too few or too unimportant to make a difference."
"But they're wrong," Wood said, her voice straining with emotion. "South Salt Lake stands proudly and defiantly to say we can no longer be the city that gets all of the unwanted government facilities. We deserve more and we will fight to get more."
Residents and business owners joined local leaders to protest all of the sites, all sharing the same worry — that a homeless center would wreak havoc on their neighborhoods.
"Please work with us, not against us," pleaded West Valley Mayor Ron Bigelow, telling the committee to engage the city in a more inclusive process, and not choose a site until issues that are worrying residents are addressed.
Those issues, Bigelow said, include obtaining full funding for homeless services before a new shelter is constructed and providing resources to cities to address the safety issues that may arise around a new shelter.
Many speakers urged the committee against sites in both South Salt Lake in West Valley City, saying both communities don't have the financial or police resources to support an up-to-300 bed homeless facility.
Rob and Ryan Christensen, owners of Christensen Industries, a manufacturing company in South Salt Lake, vowed to move their business out of the county if the site on Main Street is selected.
"If our capital city, our most-funded city, can't solve a problem in downtown Salt Lake, who's to say South Salt Lake or West Valley has a possible fighting chance to address this problem," Rob Christensen said. "Putting this burden on such a small police force is not realistic. They won't be able to keep up."
"To me, it feels we are just kicking the can down the road to Salt Lake City's ugly little brother," he added.
West Valley resident Julie Erickson told McAdams to "get off his bus" — a reference to the school bus the mayor drove during his campaign — and "come to my neighborhood" near the sites along Jordan River.
"My neighbors' voices need to be heard," she said. "We already have homeless down there. Now you just want to make their tents bigger?"
Cougar Elfervig, owner of Lux Auto Spa in South Salt Lake, said he and his wife invested their life savings in his business on 3300 South, purchasing the property just one month ago to find two weeks later the neighborhood was under consideration for a homeless shelter.
"We were devastated," he said, saying the selection of that site would be "signing a death certificate" for South Salt Lake.
Rep. Angela Romero, a Democrat who represents West Valley and Salt Lake City, said she didn't regret signing HB441, the bill providing $10 million to help build the shelter in Salt Lake County and two 200-bed facilities in Salt Lake City, but she worries the proposed sites are too condensed on the county's west side.
"I thought when we voted for that bill that we would disperse this throughout the county and not focus on some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods," Romero said.
After the meeting, McAdams thanked residents for the "incredible turnout"
"The feedback we've heard tonight has been very informative and will help us to make a well-informed decision as we look to meet the expectations of the Legislature," McAdams said. "It's not an easy decision. But we appreciate the input we've received."
McAdams said the seven sites — the last of which was firmed up Wednesday after conversations with officials from the state, which owns the site — will likely be the final number of sites the county will be evaluating.
McAdams told reporters that the county will likely hold one more opportunity for public comment on the two sites that were added Tuesday — 3380 S. 1000 West and 3432 S. 900 West — to ensure those neighborhoods have enough time to express concerns.
Take a look at the seven proposed sites on the map below, click on the markers for specific addresses:
He said that meeting will likely take place Monday at 6 p.m., at a location to be determined.
Wednesday also marked the day Salt Lake County released the list of 16 people sitting on the county evaluation committee.
Of its 16 members, no elected officials solely represent West Valley City or South Salt Lake.
The members are:
- Ben McAdams — Salt Lake County mayor
- Barbara Riddle — President of Chamber West, a group that represents business communities in West Valley City, Taylorsville, Kearns and Millcreek
- Sophia DiCaro — Former Republican representative from West Valley City
- Arlyn Bradshaw — Salt Lake County councilman representing District 1, which encompasses South Salt Lake and west-side Salt Lake City
- Richard Snelgrove — At-large Salt Lake County councilman
- Rob Wesemann — Volunteers of America-Utah division director of homeless services
- Jonathon Pierpont — Utah Department of Workforce Services executive director
- Jean Hill — Salt Lake City Catholic Community Services government liaison
- Kristy Chambers — South Salt Lake Chamber board member and director of the Columbus Community Center, a nonprofit organization serving adults and teens with disabilities
- The Rev. Mary Janda — St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, West Valley City
- John Wilkes — Formerly homeless
- Mikelle More — Intermountain Healthcare vice president
- Steve Eliason — Sandy Republican representing the Utah House of Representatives
- Blaine Walker — Road Home board member
- Mike Florence — South Salt Lake Community Development director
- Shiloah Gilmore — Longtime West Valley City resident
A report of the committee's evaluation will be given to McAdams, which he will use to select a location and make a recommendation to the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee for final consideration.