Provided by Boyd Matheson
An aerial view of a building on 46 South 700 East in Salt Lake City. The Other Side Academy is vying for permission to knock it down in order to expand its life-saving operations.

Homelessness, opioid addiction, prison populations and people in crisis dominate conversations throughout our community. These issues are regularly included in the speeches and public statements of our elected officials. I have long said that leadership is what leadership does — not what it says. Mayor Jackie Biskupski has the opportunity to truly lead with action and create space for 80 more beds and transformational training to serve those in need in Salt Lake City — at zero cost to the taxpayer.

The Other Side Academy is a self-sustained nonprofit organization that provides vocational training for those trapped on the street or perpetually in and out of the prison system. Based on the model of Delancey Street in San Francisco, the academy is ending the cycle of homelessness, criminal recidivism and addiction by developing vocational and life skills in its students. It has created a true path to upward mobility where students are empowered to not only re-enter their communities but to thrive as contributing citizens.

Without a penny from local, state or federal governments, the academy is changing lives. Its success has it bursting at the seams. It has acquired land and is prepared to create additional space. The academy has been working for the past two years to get a permit to knock down a dilapidated building on its property at 46 South 700 East. The building in question has been vacant for 15 years, the roof has collapsed, the walls are burned, it is an eye-sore and serious hazard to local residents.

Knocking it down will allow The Other Side Academy to expand its lifesaving capacity. The only thing standing in the way of progress is backward bureaucracy. That bureaucracy could be overcome in a single moment of leadership by Mayor Biskupski. She has been a voice for the vital need for the very services the academy offers. The mayor has an immediate opportunity to lead with action.

There is no opposition to the building coming down — not from the historic society or the local community. There is tremendous support for the academy to build a new facility in its place. The local neighborhood is for it. The city needs it.

The required permit for knocking, really just nudging, this dangerous and deteriorating shell to the ground has languished in the city bureaucracy for two years while scores of citizens suffer without a place for lifesaving help. Mayor Biskupski has the power to lead the way to what should be showcased as a better way, the Utah way, to end homelessness and perpetual reincarceration.

It is somewhat ironic, and even tragic, that while many wring their hands about what to do, how to fund and how to deal with homelessness, drug addiction and criminal justice reform, the answer is right in front of us. Not merely a possible or conceptual or eventual solution, but one that is making remarkable, life-changing differences today.

Oversight is important and process matters. To every politician there comes a moment where they either yield to the checklist of bureaucracy and become a manager, and even a defender, of government morass or they choose to lead the people with vision, compassion and solutions. Mayor Biskupski was elected on her vision for the people of Salt Lake City. This is an important moment for her to assert herself as a difference maker.

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Leadership is what leadership does. Ronald Reagan could have continued to manage the Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union. His predecessors from both political parties had done so for decades. Reagan’s moment came — he would not manage process — he chose to lead with simple words that launched American leadership, “Tear down this wall.” The gates of history turned because of what he did, and countless lives and the cause of freedom were changed forever.

Mayor Biskupski should head over to The Other Side Academy, stand in front of that crumbling edifice and shout, “Tear down these walls!” History will turn, a new building will emerge and lives will be transformed. That is what leadership does.