SALT LAKE CITY — Despite a state-mandated deadline in legislation that funded a systematic overhaul of Utah's homeless system, the Road Home's downtown shelter won't shut down on time.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox confirmed the delay Wednesday while giving a progress update to the Pioneer Park Coalition, a group of local business leaders that have long lobbied for changes in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande neighborhood.
"It's just a matter of math and logistics," Cox told the group gathered at the Utah Transit Authority headquarters, as he broke the news that "unfortunately yes," the downtown shelter is currently behind its state-mandated deadline to close by June 30.
The reason? The South Salt Lake homeless resource center — which got a late start on construction after a holdup on city permits — is behind schedule by a few months.
As the largest of the three centers currently being built, the 300-bed men's shelter must finish before the downtown shelter can close, according to Cox.
"Logistically it's just impossible without those 300 beds to move people out," he said.
"We're not happy that it was extended," he added, noting "there was a lot of back and forth" with South Salt Lake over permitting issues.
"But I will tell you we are working very closely with (Shelter the Homeless, the shelters' owners) and the builders to see if we can't move that date up," Cox said. "We're trying to get it into August so we're not far past the deadline."
Shelter the Homeless and state leaders acknowledged late last year a delay could be possible — perhaps if bad weather or construction complications occurred — but hadn't yet called for an extension. But Wednesday, amid what has so far been a snowy winter, Cox warned the missed deadline was imminent.
The June 30 hard closure date for the downtown shelter was set by the Utah Legislature within a law passed in 2017 to put $20 million in state funds toward construction of the three new homeless resource centers.
While the law specifies the June deadline, it does not lay out specific consequences or ramifications if the deadline is missed. However, the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee, chaired by Cox, is in control of distributing homeless funds to providers throughout the state.
While the 300-bed men's shelter is behind schedule, Jon Pierpont, executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, noted the other two shelters in Salt Lake City — a women's shelter and a mixed gender shelter — are on track for the June deadline, and the South Salt Lake center's delay won't affect plans to begin transitioning those other populations out of the downtown shelter.
Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, said the other two shelters are "actually ahead of schedule." As for the South Salt Lake site, Cochrane said crews are working overtime and on Saturdays to catch up.
"The contractors are working around the clock as much as they can," he said.
Scott Howell, a member of the Pioneer Park Coalition and former state senator, said the delay is disappointing, but also not surprising.
"Of course we're disappointed," Howell said. "But we've all done a remodel job. … There's was always that potential."
Howell credited Cox and Shelter the Homeless leaders for their leadership and keeping the community apprised.
"What we're genuinely hoping for is if the contractors can make up lost ground," Howell said. "But we'll just have to adapt, we have no choice."2 comments on this story
Howell added that perhaps there will be some upsides to the delay. "Maybe it gives us some more time to ease into it and help integrate the homeless" into the new centers, he said.
Pierpont said state leaders plan to have a news conference next week to give more details on the plan to roll out the transition from the downtown facility to the new model and its three separate facilities.
Plans include maintaining law enforcement presence at the new shelters and helping homeless individuals prepare for the move, Pierpont said.