SALT LAKE CITY — In a third year of prioritizing homelessness initiatives, the Utah Legislature passed a package of bills to help fund the three new homeless resource centers that are set to break ground this spring.
Both bills — one to fund the yearly operations of the new shelters, and the other to pay for police and fire impacts to host cities — created controversy at first because they would collect local sales tax dollars from cities not hosting shelters, but versions that passed were mostly supported by the end of the session.
A bill with heavy political backing was HB462, which, if signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, will use $6.6 million from the state's general fund to pay for half of the new homeless resource centers' annual operations costs. The shelters' owner, Shelter the Homeless, will need to fundraise the other half of the annual costs.
"This was extremely critical to the operations of these resource centers to be able to offer the supportive services we anticipate with each center," said Preston Cochrane, Shelter the Homeless' executive director.
Now, Shelter the Homeless will begin a bid process to determine who will provide services and operate the shelters, as well a provider to lead the new homeless systems "coordinated entry" system.
"It's important to address this as a state," Cochrane said. "Everyone plays a part in addressing the homeless and helping those that are dealing with crisis situations."
The other bill, SB235, if approved by the governor, will use $5 million collected from local sales tax revenue to help pay for police and fire needs that come with the impact of the homeless resource centers.
Cities hosting shelters — Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Midvale, Ogden and St. George — will be granted the funds by the Utah Homeless Coordinating Committee if they demonstrate the need for additional police or fire protection as a result of the shelters.
South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood said that bill's passage was a "big win" for her city, which will be requesting $2.6 million of the funds once they become available in January 2019.
Wood said the funds will be used to hire 12 new police officers and 12 new firefighter/paramedics so the area around the future 300-bed men's shelter at 3380 S. 1000 West can be staffed by two police officers and two firefighters 24-7.
"I'm pleased lawmakers heard the concerns of South Salt Lake and responded with financial support to pay for the needs we believe come with the impact of the homeless resource centers," she said.
The men's shelter was "state-mandated and forced upon us," Wood said, so she applauded state leaders for fulfilling promises that were given to South Salt Lake when Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams chose her city to host the shelter.
"We've done everything we could think of to ensure we would get what we were promised," she said. "So long as lawmakers understand our needs and hear our pleas when we have them, I'm hopeful that it will be a successful model."
Midvale Mayor Robert Hale also applauded the bill, noting that Midvale intends to apply for about $1 million of the funds to hire two more police officers for the area.
Last year, lawmakers funded two officers for Midvale, but Hale said the city's needs changed after Operation Rio Grande, which seemed to generate more homeless activity along TRAX lines and 7200 South, forcing the city to pull police officers out of neighborhoods to respond to those needs.8 comments on this story
With $1 million from the state, the city should be able to hire two more police officers to staff the areas full-time around the shelter and along 7200 South so other officers can go back into neighborhoods.
"I know it's been hard for other cities and the state to see some of their money evaporate, but we've kind of taken a burden on here in this city," Hale said. "All we're asking is to be made whole as a city that is taking care of (the homeless) and trying to keep businesses and residents safe."