When Salt Lake City opened a temporary overnight homeless shelter in January, it was intended as a solution for high demand for shelter space during the winter. The plan was to close it April 15, and the city is sticking with that plan, despite the global COVID-19 pandemic.
David Litvack, senior policy advisor for Mayor Erin Mendenhall, said there were no discussions about keeping it open longer.
“Just like every year there are individuals that access shelters just during the winter months and sometimes have different arrangements in the warmer weather, including being unsheltered,” Litvack said.
The shelter houses about 145 people. About 25 are being transferred to a hotel Salt Lake County is leasing for the next two weeks to house people from shelters who are over 60 or have underlying health conditions, according to Litvack. And he said he expects another 15 to be eligible for a separate motel voucher program that predates the coronavirus pandemic and is offered during the winter.
The city has extended that voucher program, along with the St. Vincent de Paul overflow shelter, until the end of June, Litvack said. But many from the Sugarhouse shelter could still end up living on the street.
“We're absolutely concerned, knowing that hygiene and washing your hands is an important part of mitigating the spread of COVID-19,” Litvack said. “That's why part of our effort is also to make sure that we have restrooms that are available and sanitation stations.”
Many public buildings that people experiencing homelessness could use to go to the bathroom, like libraries, have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When the Sugarhouse shelter closes, Litvack said port-a-potties there will remain open as well as ones in the Rio Grande area and outside the Salt Lake City library.
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson