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Salt Lake City Council Approves Overflow Shelter In West Side Hotel In Emergency Meeting

A man walks past the old Rio Grande train depot in Salt Lake City.
Wikimedia Commons
Utah’s public safety authorities praised “Operation Rio Grande” — a 2017 initiative to address crime and homelessness in downtown Salt Lake — as an example of interagency cooperation at a public safety summit held Thursday.

The Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously Friday afternoon to allow a zoning change that would make it possible to convert a hotel on the west side of the city into an emergency overflow shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

With winter weather coming this weekend, several city council members supported the move for humanitarian reasons but still offered sharp critiques of the location.

“Make no mistake. I am deeply angry with the blatant inequity this situation highlights,” said council member Andrew Johnston, who represents the Glendale, Poplar Grove and Fairpark neighborhoods. “This hotel effectively sits on the border between two of the lowest opportunity areas in our city.”

Johnston was one of four council members to critique the emergency shelter plan, saying it continues a legacy of placing a disproportionate burden on the city’s west side without giving the area enough resources.

The decision to open the shelter comes the day after the Salt Lake County Health Department started clearing out homeless encampments.

The effort began Wednesday in the downtown Rio Grande area and pushed into encampments at 600 W. and 300 S., and 900 S. and 300 W. the following day, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Speaking at a panel Thursday night, Utah Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson said he understands why people experiencing homelssness would be reluctant to move to indoor shelters due to COVID-19, especially if they or other people have the virus and don’t know it.

“If you take that into a congregate setting, into a shelter… what I’m saying is: Are their concerns real? Absolutely. They’re real,” he said.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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