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Mayor Mendenhall and others call for emergency shelter capacity as temps plunge

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, emergency shelter announcement, Dec. 20, 2022
Martha Harris
/
KUER
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall addressed reporters outside of the Salt Lake City and County Building on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. She announced an emergency order to increase the homeless shelter capacity in the city.

Five unsheltered people died in Salt Lake City within the last week according to Mayor Erin Mendenhall. On Tuesday, Dec. 20, Mendenhall signed an emergency order to increase capacity at the two homeless resource centers in the city.

The medical examiner will determine the exact causes of each of these deaths, but Mendenhall said it is reasonable to assume that the recent cold weather was a factor.

The emergency order will increase capacity by 25 at the Geraldine E. King Women’s Resource Center and at the Gail Miller Resource Center. South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood and Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini have agreed to follow suit and increase capacity at their respective shelters, the Pamela Atkinson’s Men’s Resource Center and the temporary Millcreek overflow shelter.

In total, an additional 95 beds will be available across the four shelters.

Utah’s State Homeless Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser said he was feeling confident heading into the winter because Salt Lake County had 340 winter overflow beds.

“And then that confidence has been shattered over the last week with the amount of people that are accessing shelter, even though we’ve provided more beds than we ever have and earlier than we ever have before,” Niederhauser told reporters during a news conference.

Now, Niederhauser said shelters are virtually at capacity, except the temporary shelter in Millcreek still has some beds available.

While Mendenhall said the emergency order is effective immediately, that doesn’t mean beds will open up immediately.

The state will provide funding to cover additional needs like staffing and transportation, but Niederhauser said it will likely take some time for centers to increase capacity because of staffing issues. He said the additional 95 beds will probably be open within the next couple of weeks.

The Road Home operates the Gail Miller Resource Center in Salt Lake City and Men’s Resource Center in South Salt Lake. In a statement to KUER, executive director of The Road Home Michelle Flynn said: “Our teams are striving to support additional capacity and appreciate the efforts of all of our partners to meet this need. We will work with local fire marshals to ensure we expand in a safe manner, and we support our front-line workers and will increase capacity up to the limits of our staffing and resources.”

A spokesperson for The Road Home added they do not yet have a specific timeline for when the additional beds will be available and still need to consult with shelter staff to determine capacity.

Mendenhall’s emergency order only lasts for 30 days, although the Salt Lake City Council can vote to extend it, and she acknowledged that temporarily increasing capacity will not solve the problem of homelessness.

“It’s permanent supportive housing. It’s wraparound services,” she said. “That’s the solution. We’re just putting Band-Aids on the problem.”

Other tools Mendenhall pointed to include the $55 million the state allocated in the 2022 legislative session for affordable housing projects and the funding Gov. Spencer Cox proposed for more affordable housing in his fiscal year 2024 budget.

A vigil will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. to honor and remember the homeless individuals who have died in Salt Lake City this year.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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