Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Salt Lake Homeless Providers Stumble While Working To Get Emergency Shelters Running For Winter

A photo of a homeless person's items gathered together on a patch of grass.
Emily Means
Service providers and government officials in the Salt Lake Valley are trying to find hotels to house unsheltered people this winter. Salt Lake City put up a temporary shelter in its Sugar House neighborhood last winter, but officials don’t want another congregate space this year because of COVID-19.

The first snow has fallen in Salt Lake County and a group of homeless service providers and government officials are still trying to open emergency facilities to house people this winter.

The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness has been looking since August for motels to shelter around 200 people. They didn’t want another congregate living space, like last winter’s temporary shelter in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The group landed on a hotel in Midvale, but the city has concerns about that option.

Midvale Assistant City Manager Matt Dahl said the proposed shelter violates their land use ordinances, and he said that was clear to the coalition before they made their decision.

“In order for you to be a hotel or motel, people can only stay there for a maximum of 30 days, and we believe there is a likelihood there would be individuals that would need to stay for a longer period of time,” Dahl said. “But more importantly, our ordinance has a specific list of uses that are permitted and shelters are not allowed in there.”

Dahl said the proposed site is also close to the Midvale Family Shelter, and the city worries having two homeless shelters in the area could destabilize the neighborhood. He stressed Midvale is trying to do its part.

“We house 300 individuals in our family shelter, and we invest heavily in making that shelter a part of our community every year,” he said. “We're one of the smallest cities in the county, and we do feel like we've done a lot. We would hope that other communities would also look at their policies and see if they would be able to contribute to providing services for this population in need.”

Jean Hill, co-chair of the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness and a director at the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said the Midvale location checks a lot of boxes for them. It’s a hotel, so people can safely isolate, and it’s close to the freeway, so caseworkers can quickly access clients. They planned to serve food there, too.

She also said the hotel owner is willing to let them use the space.

“Until we can find a more willing facility and city, we will pay for hotel rooms for people,” Hill said. “We just need to get people out of the cold. I would hope that maybe this city is not going to go knocking on hotel room doors and ask people why they're staying.”

But if they can’t, Hill said they’ll have to keep looking.

“There isn't a city that says bring us your tired and poor,” she said. “That just, unfortunately, is not the reality. What we really need is for city residents to speak up and talk to their mayors and city council members and say, ‘We want to be part of the solution here.’”

Hill said they have also identified another location. Although she wouldn’t say where — except that it isn’t in Salt Lake City — she said it should be open in the next two weeks.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.