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After ‘a start’ last year, Salt Lake City aims to continue work on homelessness in 2023

Gail Miller Resource Center, homelessness, Salt Lake City, Jan. 5, 2023
Sean Higgins
/
KUER
The Gail Miller Resource Center at 242 Paramount Avenue in Salt Lake City, Jan. 5, 2023.

The Salt Lake City Council recently touted the investments they made in affordable housing and policy changes to address homelessness.

Over $20 million was set aside for housing projects by the city in 2022. The state legislature also appropriated $55 million for similar projects statewide.

It was a start, I would say, into the direction that we need to go and set the groundwork for some positive work going forward,” said Michelle Flynn, the executive director of The Road Home homeless advocacy nonprofit.

“I think we're really hopeful about 2023 and certainly coming out of the pandemic, it really highlighted how housing is also health care and how housing is so crucial to the stability not only of the families in our community and the individuals in our community, but for our community and our city as a whole.”

City leaders said the council probably won’t ask taxpayers to increase that funding this year. Instead, the focus will be on coalition building with various stakeholders.

“We already raised our constituent taxes and it's just simply unfair to ask the property owners in Salt Lake City proper to take on more,” said Council Vice-Chair Victoria Petro. “I would be interested in any resourcing that is coupled with good undergirding principles, best practices and strategic direction. Just resources alone can't solve it.”

A statewide effort to re-examine how homelessness and mental health are addressed is also in its early phases and modeled after a Florida program that prioritizes treatment and resources instead of the criminal justice system.

During a November 2022 news conference, Mayor Erin Mendenhall called the initiative a “seismic shift” in the way Salt Lake City looks at those issues.

While advocates see the funding and progress made in 2022 as a good start, they said future investments need to be in more than just physical buildings.

“Resources need to be directed towards what we know works and it needs to be sustained,” said Flynn. “I think Salt Lake City can do more and needs to recognize that the connection of ensuring that people who are unsheltered know where to go and that they have a way to get there is really important.”

The city is expected to complete an analysis of its current homeless and mental health programs in the first quarter of 2023.

In the immediate future, the city council is looking to take up the current moratorium on new, permanent homeless shelters. The ban has been in place since late 2021. The concern has been that concentrating services in specific neighborhoods can lead to inequities in those parts of the city.

“Creating ghettos is not smart planning for the future,” said Petro. “And our city council is committed to smart planning for the future … There should no longer be a moratorium … There should be an ordinance that functions to both protect the future of unsheltered constituents and promote the geographical equity that's going to protect our city's long term development.”

She said an ordinance addressing new homeless shelters could be in front of the council in the next few weeks.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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