DRAPER — Though Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams says it's too early to tell where the county's new homeless resource center will be built, on Tuesday Draper became the only city to welcome the idea with open arms.
Just two days before a homeless site recommendation is due under state law, Draper leaders volunteered two new possible sites.
Draper Mayor Troy Walker joined McAdams to offer a site located somewhere within the 600 acres currently occupied by the soon-to-be-relocated Utah State Prison or a site at 15001 S. Minuteman Drive, which is on the frontage road along the east side of I-15.
Draper's last-minute offer comes after McAdams faced public outrage over the seven other sites named in either South Salt Lake or West Valley City. City leaders have adamantly opposed those site options within their cities, worried that an up-to-300-bed homeless facility will damage their communities.
But county and state officials have said the center — part of plans to break up and scatter the populations currently being served at the 1,100-bed Rio Grande shelter — needs to go somewhere.
"There's trepidation and fear — no one wants Rio Grande," Walker acknowledged. "I don't want Rio Grande. But that's not what we're looking for, and that's not the plan."
Walker said he "started thinking about this a week ago" and consulted with Draper City Council leaders before approaching McAdams on Thursday to make the proposal.
"I thought to myself I would really like to see if we can help, if we could step up to the plate and make a difference somehow," Walker said, acknowledging that Draper will benefit greatly from the economic development that will come once the state prison is relocated to Salt Lake City.
"It's the right thing to do; it's the Christian thing to do," Walker said. "It's the thing that will set us apart and make us the kind of people we are."
McAdams thanked Draper leaders for stepping forward, recognizing that "we face the challenge of homelessness together."
"It's too early to tell which will work best," McAdams said when asked if Draper's proposal increases the likelihood that one of the Draper sites will ultimately be selected. But he acknowledged that "having the support of a city partner increases our chance of success."
McAdams acknowledged, however, there are problems with the Draper sites — though he said the concerns will be allayed once Draper experiences more growth in coming years.
"Neither location is close to transit, nor the community amenities we had envisioned," McAdams said, which is why the Draper sites weren't initially considered. "However, this is located in a part of the valley that is developing rapidly, and in a few short years we will have much of what we need."
A TRAX station is planned near the area, the county mayor pointed out.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, a Republican who represents Draper and has also prioritized homelessness as a state issue, expressed support for both of the Draper sites, saying in a statement he's "willing to accept whatever locations are selected."
"Homelessness is a statewide issue and every community has a role to play," he said, crediting Draper officials for their leadership.
"I appreciate their thoughtful approach and support their desire to be part of the solution," Hughes said.
Though Draper leaders welcome the idea of a homeless resource center in their community, some residents don't.
Shortly after the announcement hit headlines, Draper residents began commenting on the city's Facebook page to express their frustrations.
"No, no, no," said commenter Wendy Wright. "We will fight just like everyone has fought."
Tuesday's announcement gives Draper residents just one day to give input on the proposal at an open house scheduled for Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Draper City Hall, 1020 Pioneer Road.
Kerri Black Madsen questioned why residents were hearing the news of the proposal one day before the public meeting.
"This gives residents no time to inform the entire community, arrange their schedules to attend or prepare for public comment," she wrote on Facebook.
Troy Martinez, who lives roughly 4 miles away from the site on Minuteman Drive, said Walker's proposal "blindsided" Draper residents.
"How dimwitted do you have to be to think this is a good idea?" Martinez said, worried that a 16-mile distance from homeless services in Salt Lake City would create insurmountable "logistical" problems.
Martinez also worried that a new homeless center would bring crime to his community and strain his city's police force.
"This is a hasty move," Martinez said, urging Walker to take input from his residents before "going off and doing something on his own."
When asked if he felt Wednesday's open house allows his constituents enough time to express feedback on the sites, Walker said, "I think so," but added, "I wish we had more time."
"I started thinking about this a week ago," Walker said. "Maybe I should have thought about it sooner. I guess that's my fault, but I thought it was so remote it wasn't something that could be considered."
Walker said he "always had the desire to help" and noted other mayors in surrounding communities like Salt Lake City and Midvale have tried to solve the homeless problem.
"We wanted to step up and do our part," Walker said. "I wish I would have thought of it three weeks ago — sorry."
Due to the additional site being added for consideration, the county's site evaluation committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday was postponed until Thursday at 9 a.m.— the day McAdams is required to recommend a site to the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee.
Hughes has said the deadline is firm, and missing it would stall $10 million in state funding to help build the homeless resource centers.
West Valley and South Salt Lake leaders expressed gratitude to Draper officials for stepping forward, but they expressed continuing concerns about the condensed timeline.
"We still have many concerns about this process as well as the plan," West Valley Mayor Ron Bigelow said in a joint statement with the City Council. "We are skeptical but committed to a real solution."
South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood said the Draper announcement doesn't quite relieve South Salt Lake since four sites are still on the table for consideration in her city, but she said she's "appreciative" to Walker for stepping in.
"We have said all along that given the time and opportunity, any city could make a good recommendation for a homeless shelter site," Wood said. "We will continue to stay involved with this process and encourage (residents) to do the same until a final decision is made."
The map below displays all proposed locations for the new homeless center. Click on the markers to view the addresses.