Salt Lake City residents asked Mayor Jackie Biskupski tough questions Wednesday night about the new planned homeless shelters. Much of the frustration is focused on the city’s choice of Simpson Avenue in Sugar House as the location of a new shelter as well as doubts about whether the new model will work.
Sugar House residents like Shane Straud pack the Sprague library to get a chance to talk to Biskupski. Like many residents here, he’s worried about property values and the safety of the neighborhood.
“If this system should fail, if it shouldn’t go as the city expects, it could destroy our neighborhood. It could have lasting impacts for decades. You’re asking us to take a leap of faith,” Straud says. “This isn’t a leap of faith. This is a gamble.”
Biskupski spent the evening reassuring people like Straud that what will be in their neighborhood will not look like The Road Home on Rio Grande Street. She says they’ll be smaller, safer and more effective.
“We absolutely have to change the dynamics that we are living with or we will never change what we are experiencing today,” Biskupski says. “This is our first step to changing those dynamics.”
When the shelters open in roughly two years, The Road Home will close-a net loss of 500 shelter beds. That worries Glenn Bailey, executive Director of Crossroads Urban Center. He says if the new shelters are overflowing when they open, the new model won’t have a chance.
“That’s the worst case scenario,” Bailey says.
City and county leaders say the goal is to reduce the need for emergency shelter by getting people into housing. But Bailey says that will require significant investment and a plan.
“And I have some real concerns about whether we’re on a path to achieve that goal in the next two years, which is not very much time,” he says.
Mayor Biskupski will release a housing plan later this month. The Salt Lake City council has also set aside $21 million for housing, although it’s unclear how they plan to use it.