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Salt Lake City Planning Commission votes against indefinite pause on homeless shelters

Whittney Evans
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has said the city shoulders too much of the state’s homeless services.

On Wednesday, the Salt Lake City Planning Commission voted against a proposal that would block new permanent homeless shelters indefinitely.

The commission recommended keeping a deadline on the current moratorium on new shelters which expires in April.

The city argues it’s not meant to be a permanent prohibition, but putting a hold on shelter requests allows for time to update city code to minimize the impacts of homeless resources. They also want to clarify the difference between permanent and temporary facilities.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall initiated the process in October, after news broke that service providers wanted to put an overflow shelter in the city’s Ballpark neighborhood.

The mayor said the capital city takes on too much of the burden of homelessness in Utah.

“Salt Lake City, and more specifically, certain districts in the city, bear a higher responsibility than other municipalities in the state to provide shelter and services to the state’s homeless population,” Mendenhall said at the time.

Amy Hawkins, chair of the Ballpark Community Council, agrees.

“The areas where homeless shelters are currently allowed in the city are extremely limited,” Hawkins said. “They’re only a few neighborhoods … [and it’s] deeply inequitable. The impacts that we’re experiencing and that the homeless community are experiencing in these neighborhoods aren’t trivial.”

But some people feel like they – and others – are being left out of the process.

Jean Hill, with the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, said shelters should be easily accessible by people who need them — and the people who need them are unhoused Salt Lake residents.

“Let's really make sure we're hearing from those who are going to be served and those who are serving them,” Hill said, “and do what is right for those residents, as well as what's right for housed residents.”

Hill said she hopes there’s no reason to put another shelter in Salt Lake City, but with population growth and a continued lack of deeply affordable housing, it’s possible it may need one.

The commission, however, only makes recommendations to the city council. The council will likely take up the issue in February.

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