SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker said he's received reports of "major problems" and "appalling" conditions at the Road Home, leading a panel of legislators to call for an audit of the downtown shelter and other service providers for the homeless.
After legislative auditors presented findings Wednesday of a recent audit of state spending on initiatives to combat homelessness, Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he's heard concerns about the shelter.
The Road Home manages the nearly 1,100-bed downtown homeless shelter slated to close in 2019 after three new homeless resource centers open, as well as the family shelter in Midvale.
Anderegg didn't elaborate on his concerns during the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee meeting at the Capitol, and lawmakers voted after little discussion to recommend a performance audit of the Road Home and other providers of services for the homeless.
When asked after the meeting about his concerns with the Road Home, Anderegg vaguely said he's heard of some serious issues at the shelter.
"My understand is there are actually some major problems going on down there," he said. "Conditions are pretty appalling is what I've been told. Once again, it's anecdotal, but it's sufficient enough that I felt it was important we actually raise it as a concern and actually do an audit."
When pressed for specifics, Anderegg declined, shaking his head.
"I cannot," he said. "It's hearsay at this point, which is why I wanted to do the audit."
The unexpected vote and Anderegg's comments alarmed a Road Home official, who attended Wednesday's meeting.
Becky Pickle, vice president of the Road Home's board of trustees, approached Anderegg at the end of the meeting and told him she'd be happy to provide any needed information, telling him his worries were "concerning" to her.
Pickle said in an interview she welcomes any audit of the Road Home.
"I think his concerns are at this point just hearsay, and we would love to provide any information," she said. "We'll definitely reach out to him with that and happily be involved in any audit that's asked for. And I think they'll be pleased with what they find."
Pickle said she's not aware of any troubling conditions at any of the Road home's facilities.
"We definitely have an old building," she said, "but our staff does a really great job maintaining it as best as they can."
Pickle said the Road Home's relationships with Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and the state are important because the shelter relies on their support.
"We need community support," she said. "We have an absolutely outrageous number of people facing homelessness right now. The number is rising, and our job is just to provide emergency shelter. We don't turn people away, so that funding is really important to help people that are in one of their worst times of their life and not having their basic needs met."
The Road Home's budget was $16.8 million in 2016, according to the shelter's annual report. Of that revenue, nearly $7.8 million came from private contribution, $5.9 million from the federal government, $1.8 million from the state, and nearly $1.3 million from the city.
Though Wednesday's interim committee recommended the audit, it will be up to the Legislative Audit Subcommittee to order the review.
Matt Minkevitch, the Road Home's executive director, said in a phone interview he welcomes a performance audit, pointing out that the shelter just completed its own fiscal audit.
When asked about conditions inside Road Home shelters, Minkevitch said he's "not in earshot of all the hearsay," but he added that it's "never fun" to sleep in dorms with hundreds of other people.
"I think we should all be concerned that so many people are turning to emergency shelters," he said, adding that it is "incredibly challenging to get out of shelter in the current affordable housing market."6 comments on this story
Concerns with the Road Home's downtown shelter are not new. Last year, county and city leaders agreed to shutter the overcrowded shelter and withstood public outrage while pressing forward with plans to build three new homeless resource centers and close the downtown shelter by July 2019.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams also said he "didn't feel safe" and experienced "shocking conditions" — including open drug use and violence — inside the shelter when he secretly spent a night in the men's dorms in March.