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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Construction continues on the new homeless shelter in South Salt Lake on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Salt Lake County has bought the homes surrounding the new homeless shelter site.

SALT LAKE CITY — What was once an open, grassy field is now a noisy construction site.

Sounds of heavy equipment, power tools and shouts of construction workers saturate the neighborhood along 1000 West, where now stands the makings of a 300-bed homeless resource center — a building that seems to tower over homes and backyards right next door.

To Ryann Ringel, who until recently owned the 3/4-acre property directly north of the construction site, the new building has more than completely changed what once was a tight-knit neighborhood.

"It's just swallowed it up," Ringel said. "It's gone."

The future homeless resource center looms over Ringel's backyard, where her goats, sheep and chickens still roam freely — for now, but not for much longer.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
A home near the new homeless shelter in South Salt Lake is pictured on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Salt Lake County has bought the homes surrounding the new homeless shelter site.

Ringle said the new homeless facility now "overshadows" what she used to call home.

"It's more than depressing. It's oppressive," Ringel told the Deseret News recently. "It makes you feel very small."

'Disrupted' lives

Ringel was one of about a dozen property owners who have since sold their homes and land to Salt Lake County, after months of negotiating and political wrangling between the county and South Salt Lake.

Now, though some neighbors remain, the street is mostly vacant, except for construction workers. Chain-link construction fencing blocks off several front yards.

Ringel said she's there daily to take care of her animals until she can re-home them.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Construction continues on the new homeless shelter in South Salt Lake on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Salt Lake County has bought the homes surrounding the new homeless shelter site.

Some longtime neighbors who once kept in touch with the Deseret News couldn't be reached for this story. Some didn't return multiple requests for comment, while other phone numbers were no longer in service. Most doors went unanswered when knocked on Friday.

The emotionally charged situation has left the neighborhood divided, Ringel said. Many have already moved away.

"This whole situation has completely disrupted our life," Ringel said. "It's put an extreme strain on both of our bodies and our marriage."

She and her husband, Chris, have bought a new home in South Salt Lake with the $380,000 the county gave them to purchase their property — including a relocation cost over their home's appraised value, according to the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office.

Still, Ringel said they've downsized, from 3/4 of an acre down to a 1/4 acre, meaning they won't be able to take their animals to their new home. By spring, Ringel said she'll need to re-home them, but it's been difficult.

"It's completely changed the course of my life," she said. "My personal feelings are that once the dust settles, I'm getting out of Utah as quickly as possible. I am so over the politics. I can't be around it."

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
A home near the new homeless shelter in South Salt Lake is pictured on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Salt Lake County has bought the homes surrounding the new homeless shelter site.

The Ringels ironically purchased their South Salt Lake home in 2016, moving from Salt Lake City's Sugar House neighborhood where a homeless facility was previously proposed but was scrapped after neighborhood outrage. As a result, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams was tasked to choose a site somewhere else in Salt Lake County.

More than a year and a half ago, South Salt Lake leaders were infuriated when McAdams chose the site at 3380 S. 1000 West. The third homeless resource center (with two others being constructed in Salt Lake City) is part of the wide-reaching overhaul of the county's homeless system and the closure of the Road Home's troubled downtown shelter.

But to the residents along 1000 South, their world was turned upside down when McAdams made his decision. Many were left fearful of what the 300-bed homeless resource center would bring to their neighborhood, despite political leaders' promises it would look nothing like the nearly 1,100-bed downtown shelter.

Still, McAdams, when he chose the site, promised neighbors the county would buy surrounding properties if they wanted to sell.

Fearing the new center would bring drugs, crime and heavy traffic to their agricultural neighborhood, many did.

Buyouts

Salt Lake County this fall finalized purchases of 13 properties surrounding the site of the future shelter, with total price tags including relocation to help offset homeowners' searches for new homes.

The price tags ranged from $350,000, all the way up to about $1 million, depending on the parcel, according to Michelle Schmitt, spokeswoman for McAdams, who has since resigned as mayor after winning election to Congress.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
A home near the new homeless shelter in South Salt Lake is pictured on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Salt Lake County has bought the homes surrounding the new homeless shelter site.

In total, the county spent over $7 million for the properties, including $4.8 million in county funds and $2.2 million in state funds, Schmitt said. Each purchase went before and was individually approved by the County Council.

"This was a willing buyer, willing seller situation," Schmitt said. "Our real estate manager spent a lot of time out here with these folks to really find out what would be the best situation for everybody involved."

The Tracey Aviary, as part of a plan to protect and activate the Jordan River (another one of McAdams' promises to South Salt Lake), also paid $720,000 to purchase a parcel for a plan to build a second campus within the new Jordan River Park.

The county is renting properties to some residents who are staying for now, Schmitt said. There aren't currently any concrete plans for the properties, she said, though McAdams previously suggested they could be used for other services or programs.

"That area has so much opportunity given its central valley location and proximity to the Jordan River," Schmitt said, noting the county has had discussions with South Salt Lake about future plans for the Jordan River Park.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
A home near the new homeless shelter in South Salt Lake is pictured on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Salt Lake County has bought the homes surrounding the new homeless shelter site.

Ringel said she understood the county was bound by law to pay a fair price for the properties, but she still felt like they received the "bare minimum." Walking away, Ringel said she was sympathetic to the difficult situation neighbors and the county were in, but now is forced to make the best of it.

"We know nobody did this to us, it's just something that happened to us," she said.

Still, what was most "traumatic," Ringel said, was political infighting between Salt Lake County and South Salt Lake, as well as months of limbo while the city, county and the shelter's owner, Shelter the Homeless, grappled over who would buy the properties.

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood acknowledged "the process was frustrating for all parties involved" and city officials were "hopeful for the best resolution" for the neighbors.

Schmitt said the county "worked closely and directly with each property owner to ensure as smooth a process as possible."

Meanwhile, while the Ringels prepare to leave permanently, one neighbor a street over plans to stay.

'Our life is here'

Joy Valdez, who runs a horse stable on 1100 West, said she decided not to leave, knowing she'd be hard-pressed to find horse property for a similar price in the city in today's hot real estate market.

Instead, she said she's invested over $14,000 on new fencing and security in anticipation of the new homeless shelter, which she calls an "eyesore."

"My whole family thinks we're crazy staying, but it's our life here," Valdez said.

Valdez lamented the changing feel of her neighborhood and the exit of many longtime neighbors.

She also worried for the future, saying her neighborhood is already dealing with homelessness-related issues, including camps along the Jordan River. She said her barn has had five fires she suspects were started by embers blown from nearby camps.

"I hope it's not as bad as we're portraying," Valdez said. "But it's going to get worse before it gets better."

Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, said "the evidence is clear that homelessness is being driven by the affordable housing crisis" and that addressing the issue of homelessness will take the cooperation of everyone.

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"The lack of affordable housing has a dual effect: It pushes more people into the homelessness system, while also making it more difficult to help people rapidly return to stable housing," Cochrane said. "The causes of homelessness are many and multifaceted, and the solutions are going to take all of us working together, doing our parts, strengthening our communities."

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly listed the address of the new homeless resource center as 3380 W. 1000 South. The correct address is 3380 S. 1000 West.