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Construction Delays Of New Homeless Shelters Draw Ire From Community Groups

Photo of new shelter.
Rocio Hernandez / KUER
The Geraldine E King Women's Shelter, pictured, will be operated by Volunteers of America Utah. It is slated to open in late July or early August.

Construction delays at two of three new Salt Lake area homeless shelters are prompting concern from community members. They were scheduled to start serving clients on July 1. But in mid-June, officials with the Utah Department of Workforce Services revised that plan, pushing the opening dates back by several weeks. 

Members of the Pioneer Park Coalition, a group focused on cleaning up the downtown neighborhood, authored an open letter on July 1. In it they expressed concern about the delays and implored residents to contact city, state and nonprofit leaders involved in building the new shelters. 

“Two years ago, a deadline was set for the closure of the downtown shelter (operated by The Road Home). That deadline was yesterday. June 30 was chosen because it allows the resource centers plenty of time to work with their clients before winter sets in. Now, we'll be lucky if all of the shelters will be open by September,” the letter reads. 

The delayed timeline could also undo progress that has been made cleaning up drug and criminal activity in the downtown Rio Grande neighborhood, says Dave Kelly, vice chair of the coalition. 

“Then all of the criminal elements that’s been pulled out of the downtown Rio Grande/Pioneer Park area says ‘Hey, we’ve outlasted this big effort. We can go back in there now,’” Kelly said. 

In addition to construction delays, Kelly says contracts and leases have not been finalized between Shelter the Homeless, the nonprofit that will own the three new resource centers, and the three organizations that will provide services: The Road Home, Catholic Community Services and Volunteers of America. 

“The contracts and the agreements with Shelter the Homeless and the service providers, those weren’t being worked on while the construction was still moving forward,” Kelly said. 

But according to Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homes, leases for the two Salt Lake City shelters are under final legal review. He said Volunteers of America are already working in the Geraldine E. King Women’s Resource Center with a temporary lease, and that a draft lease is under review by The Road Home for the South Salt Lake resource center.

Cochrane explained that the lease agreements also depend on funding allocated from the state, and those details just became available in late May. Shelter the Homeless is still in the process of fundraising for services that will be provided in the resource centers. 

“We’re working around the clock and our contractors are working overtime to meet that schedule,” said Cochrane. 

Christina Davis with the Department of Workforce Services says wet spring weather was to blame for pushing back the construction timeline. It stalled concrete pouring and the installation of rooftop solar panels at the two facilities: the Geraldine E. King Women’s Resource Center and the Gail Miller Resource Center for men and women. 

“We always want things to be on the original schedule, so we would have loved to have seen that happen. But where we’re at right now, it’s going to be a successful transition,” Davis said. 

The third resource center, a yet-to-be-named men’s shelter in South Salt Lake, is slated to be operational in September. The current downtown shelter operated by The Road Home will close 30 days after all three new resource centers have opened, according to Davis. 

“We’re adding a lot more cost to the system,” said Preston Cochrane, “We want to make sure we have the resources and make sure we’re doing it right, so that we have everything in place, so that we’re not trying to play catch up.”

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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