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New Housing For Homeless People Opens Up In Salt Lake City, But Nearby Dozens Of People Are Displaced

A photo of Erin Mendenhall cutting a ribbon.
Emily Means
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, joined by long-time homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson, cuts a ribbon to celebrate the opening of a new permanent supportive housing complex for people experiencing homelessness.

The Magnolia looks like any other brand new apartment building in Salt Lake City. It has big windows, community gathering spaces and is located right downtown.

But its future tenants will all have experienced chronic homelessness.

“To our residents who are not here with us just yet today, but coming very soon: congratulations and welcome home,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall at The Magnolia’s grand opening Thursday. “We want you to feel [like] an engaged and beloved part of our capital city community.”

A photo of the entrance to The Magnolia.
Emily Means
The Magnolia is a 65-unit apartment in downtown Salt Lake City that will provide permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.

The facility has 65 units for singles or couples and on-site case management, so people will have access to resources to help with things like mental health issues or finding a job.

Residents will sign a lease and pay around 30% of their income on rent, though service providers will work with people who don’t have an income.

Michelle Flynn is the executive director of The Road Home, the group that will manage the development. She said it’s designed to help the most vulnerable unsheltered people.

“When we have a property like this, which is in great demand and more expensive because of the supportive services, we want to make sure we're targeting those individuals who have the greatest need,” Flynn said.

While local leaders and advocates cut the ribbon on the new property, dozens of unsheltered people were being forced to move from their campsites along the Jordan River just a few miles away.

Officials from the Salt Lake County Health Department said it was an environmental health risk with so many people living there.

Holly Lowe is one of the people who was displaced during the camp abatement. She moved as much as she could carry to an empty lot down the street.

A photo of Holly Lowe's homeless encampment.
Emily Means
After local health officials cleaned up a homeless encampment along the Jordan River, Holly Lowe, her mother and others rebuilt their camps down the street.

The rest got thrown away.

“At this point, all we have is a tent, some blankets, a little bit of cooking supplies, some food and a couple of changes of clothes,” Lowe said.

Lowe, 39, said she’s been homeless for more than two years. She said she wants to see a better plan from the local government.

“Realistically, all they're doing is shifting us from one place to another, wasting tax dollars,” she said. “If there was affordable housing that was more affordable for a lot of us, over half of us, if not most of us, wouldn't be out here.”

The Magnolia is expected to open to residents in mid-July. It joins a few other permanent supportive housing options throughout the Salt Lake Valley, but Flynn said those are typically full, which is also the case for the emergency shelters in the county.

Salt Lake’s winter overflow shelters close this month, and officials expect around 300 people will be looking for a place to stay.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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