Salt Lake City’s winter shelter is closing. Plans for more programs like it are still in the works
The emergency winter homeless shelter at a former Ramada Inn in Salt Lake City is scheduled to close Friday. The operation opened in January after delays due to staffing shortages.
The program had 150 beds — which service providers said were all filled — and supported people 65 and older and those with special health considerations, like chronic illnesses or limited mobility.
Ruben Duran, 67, and his wife, Carol, just moved out to an apartment of their own. He said they’ve been homeless before, and they were actually on the brink of homelessness again before they got into the Ramada.
“It was so fantastic,” Duran said. “They gave us a queen bed in a room. I felt like I was actually on vacation or something.”
Caseworkers helped them find their new place and also helped his wife access medication and other treatments.
Janida Emerson, CEO of Fourth Street Clinic, said this type of program — where providers can connect with clients in a centralized location — is needed. Her staff has been supplying medical services at the emergency shelter.
“Everybody in our community deserves the opportunity to be able to feel safe when they are sick and have access to the services that they need that are going to help them transition into a better place,” she said.
Emerson said there are plans to make this an ongoing resource. But providers have two big hurdles to overcome — funding and finding a place to put a facility.
One Salt Lake City policy might complicate those plans. The city council voted in March to extend a moratorium on new shelters in city limits, possibly until May 2023.
Andrew Johnston, the mayor’s homelessness policy advisor, said whether the proposal is impacted depends on how it’s defined. A housing project, for example, wouldn’t be limited by the moratorium, while a shelter isn’t an allowed use.
But Johnston acknowledged that a program dedicated to this population would fill a need.
“We had a lot of people who were camping who fit that criteria of being older or medically vulnerable, who came in for the winter,” Johnston said. “I believe most people would choose to come in if they found the right type of options, contrary to a belief that a lot of people are just refusing everything. So we are continually trying to find better ways to meet their needs.”
In the meantime, shelter operators say they’re still working to help residents at the former Ramada find a safe space to live. But with limited affordable housing options and constraints on homeless resource centers, providers say it will be hard to find a place for everyone.