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Politics & Government

SLC Mayor Mendenhall Proposes More Shelter Space And Encampment Crackdowns For The Homeless

Mayor Erin Mendenhall Homelessness Press Conference SH.jpg
Sonja Hutson
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced a series of proposals at a Thursday press conference to address homelessness.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced a series of proposals, policies and calls to action Thursday to address homelessness. They include a mix of creating more places for people to stay and cracking down on encampments.

Adding 300 more emergency shelter beds should mean that everyone has access to one if they want it, according to the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness. Mendenhall called on the state to help the Coalition make that a reality by December. She did not provide details on where those shelter beds would go.

Until then, Mendenhall said police will only clear out encampments in areas where they keep popping up, like the Rio Grande neighborhood.

“Without guaranteed shelter space, it is legally and morally difficult to have sustained citywide enforcement of this [camping ban] ordinance unless other criminal activity is also occurring,” Mendenhall said. “It cannot, and it will not, be against the law to be homeless in Salt Lake City.”

But after those 300 additional beds become available, Mendenhall said police will crack down everywhere.

“The growth of the unsheltered population living on Salt Lake City streets has been accompanied by a larger and larger encampment situation in public spaces and, unfortunately, criminal activity in and around those encampments,” she said. “This can't be tolerated. Every resident of the city deserves to feel safe here, whether they are sheltered or not.”

Mendenhall and other homelessness officials said many people who are offered services while living on the street don’t want to go into shelters. Currently, shelters don’t allow weapons or drugs. Many also don’t allow couples to stay together or for people to bring in pets.

One solution, said State Homeless Services Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser, could be to have less strict requirements for staying there.

“[It’s] probably not a complete solution, but could be part of people that don't want to come into shelter, but want to be in a place that's warm or cool and get water or food,” he said.

Niederhauser added he would let local homelessness coalitions take the lead on whether that’s a strategy they want to pursue.

Mendenhall is also asking the city council to use federal COVID relief money to build more permanent supportive housing. She’s asking the county and state to fund a mental health and substance abuse detox receiving center, which helps people in crisis.

The City also recently announced the proposed location for a new tiny home community for unsheltered people which will have more than 400 units.

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