SALT LAKE CITY — Thanks to the delayed groundbreaking of the South Salt Lake homeless resource center site, the owners of the future homeless facilities have known the June 30, 2019, deadline to shut down the downtown homeless shelter was going to be tight.
And while construction crews are still hopeful they can make up lost time with a little bit of luck and good weather, Shelter the Homeless officials have begun acknowledging the possibility a deadline extension request may need to happen.
"It's definitely on our minds," Preston Cochrane, Shelter the Homeless' executive director told the Deseret News on Friday, noting "we want to be realistic" in case bad weather or other unforeseen complications further delay the 300-bed men's resource center.
But at the same time, "we don't want to jump the gun and change the dates if we don't have to," Cochrane added.
So, at least for now, the nonprofit organization and its board members are proceeding with plans that the three new homeless resource centers in South Salt Lake and Salt Lake City will be up and running and the Road Home's downtown shelter will shut its doors forever by the end of next June — the deadline set in the state law that helped fund the facilities' construction.
"We're monitoring that very closely," Cochrane said. "As we get closer, obviously it's very much weather-related and other things might be out of our control.
Crews from Hughes Construction, the company building the South Salt Lake facility, have told Shelter the Homeless they're still shooting to meet the summer deadline, but they're "playing catch-up at this point," Cochrane said.
The South Salt Lake site is supposed to be the largest of the three new homeless resource centers and is critical to the closure of the downtown homeless shelter. The other two, 200-bed facilities in Salt Lake City, one for women and one for both men and women, are on schedule, Cochrane said.
Even before the South Salt Lake site's construction faced delays amid complications with its city permitting process, questions have lingered about the tight state-mandated deadline and whether the three shelters will have enough capacity to serve Salt Lake County's homeless population.
Some political leaders, including members of the Salt Lake City Council, have occasionally raised doubts about whether the three shelters' combined 700 beds, along with the Road Home's 300-bed Midvale family shelter, will be enough to serve all homeless clients.
The state's 2018 homeless Point in Time Count found more unsheltered people experiencing homelessness than previous years, from 291 in 2017 to 420 this year. The number didn't concern state officials, however, who pointed to perhaps better counting efforts and "a little bit of dispersion" as a result of Operation Rio Grande in Salt Lake City.
State leaders have set aside $2 million for an overflow shelter as a worst-case scenario, but Shelter the Homeless officials still expect the three new shelters, along with other programs meant to divert people from homelessness, will be enough, Cochrane said.Comment on this story
What remains a concern, however, is whether enough Utah communities — both in rural areas and along the Wasatch Front — are doing enough to create affordable housing so the state's homeless population doesn't increase over the next few years, Cochrane said.
"It's everyone's responsibility to make sure we're doing enough to meet the needs of everybody," he said, noting that he hopes more cities follow the example of Salt Lake City in efforts to rapidly increase affordable housing stock.