SOUTH SALT LAKE — Residents in the sparsely populated neighborhood near the just-announced site for a new homeless shelter say they're appalled and angry with Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams' selection, and they're not ready to accept it.
Ryann Ringel, whose house and quarter-acre lot abuts the north side of the proposed homeless resource center property, said she had a visit from McAdams Friday morning but didn't hear anything that made her feel better about the decision.
"I didn't believe a word that came out of his mouth," she said.
Ringel said McAdams made references to the county being prepared to offer compensation for the potential impacts that come with the planned 300-bed shelter. But the mayor wouldn't specify what that meant, she said, and didn't respond when asked: "Are you going to pay us what we've invested in our home?"
Ringel was also disappointed with McAdams' reference to a "data-based" decision process, she said.
"I'd like to know exactly what that data is, and how much time they've spent gathering and analyzing it," Ringel said. "I just can't believe, with the timeline we've been watching, that enough research has been done."
In a strange twist of fate, Ringel and her husband, Chris, had just purchased their South Salt Lake home and property about seven months ago, moving from Salt Lake City's Sugar House neighborhood near the site of a previously proposed homeless facility on Simpson Avenue.
The Ringels spent a year looking for property that would accommodate an urban agriculture effort that is already well underway, she said. The couple is getting ready to till a large garden space, and they're raising lambs and chickens on the property.
"I'm sorry, but Simpson would have been a great place to put in a shelter," Ringel said, noting that it's "right next to TRAX, access to jobs, a grocery store close by, and people."
"I'm a person who thinks that homeless people need people like the rest of us, and that's just not happening out here," she said.
Ringel's next-door neighbor Joyce Hewitt has lived in the area much longer, raising five children with her husband, James, over the course of 53 years in their home.
"I haven't slept for the last week," Hewitt said. "This is the worst, worst place to put it."
Hewitt said she and her neighbors already feel under siege, with the Salt Lake County Jail, Salt Lake Valley Juvenile Detention Center and Valley Woods, an affordable housing facility for people with mental illness, all within about a two-block radius.
"Just a little while ago they were talking about new homes going up in this area, and they were calling it the 'Gateway to South Salt Lake,'" she said. "Now this? We're all devastated. It's right in our backyard."
The evening after McAdams made his announcement, South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood called an "emergency neighborhood meeting" at the Columbus Senior Center, where about 100 residents gathered to ask questions.
The ambience at the meeting wasn't raucous our out of control — but it was somber and defiant.
Many asked the same questions: What can we do to stop this? How do we know this won't look like The Road Home?
And many others urged Wood and other South Salt Lake leaders to fight.
"This is hell," said resident Archer Birrell. "I don't think you can put a price tag on what this is doing to people. These are real lives being destroyed."
Suzanne Slifka, a resident of the Riverfront condos near the site, worried about crime and suggested forming a neighborhood watch.
"Our community is going to explode," she said. "There goes our property values completely."
Charlette Rogers said she's lived in South Salt Lake for 37 years, and she remembered when the neighborhood fought the Oxbow jail about 20 years ago.
"The county promised a lot of things, but they've broken a lot of them," she said, adding that before the jail was built, the county said it would not release prisoners at the site of the jail.
Jeremy Hunsaker said he lives a "one-minute walk" away from Grace Mary Manor, the 84-bed homeless facility that is already housed in South Salt Lake.
"What is about to plague you people is gut-wrenching," he said, telling of how his own daughter doesn't want to sleep overnight at his home because she's "frightened by everything that goes on."
"Grace Mary Manor is bad enough," he said. "Our boys in blue have enough problems keeping that under control. Salt Lake City can't push its problems on us."
Hunsaker and others called on the neighborhood to rally together to fight it — including marching up on the steps of the Utah Capitol to ask the legislature to put a stop to it.
"I can chain myself to an excavator, if that's what is needed to end this," he said.
Hewitt said several conversations have been happening among residents in the area, and some have said they would sell their properties. Others want to find out what legal recourses may be available.
For Hewitt, whose children are grown and gone and whose husband is battling medical issues and confined to bed, the choices are limited.
"Coming in here and doing this, they're putting us out of our home," she said.
Joy Valdez, who owns a horse stable on 1100 west, right across the street from the 3300 South site, said she cried when she heard the news.
"I've been so upset," she said, adding that ever since her neighborhood was named as a possibility, "everybody's been on edge."
"It affects all of us — the whole community," she said. "They've got to consider we're citizens, we're residents, we're businesses ... They have to rethink this."
She said she and her boarders frequently trail ride on the Jordan River.
"Some kids ride up the trail way," she said, concerned that the facility will threaten her business because riders will no longer want to board at her stable.
Valdez said homeless already camp on Jordan River, and she worried the new facility will only aggravate the problem and draw more crime and drugs to the area.
John Converse owns property northwest of the proposed shelter site and was mostly resigned to McAdams' decision.
"Make no mistake, I'm not excited about it," Converse said. "But it feels inevitable."
Contributing: Katie McKellar