Five people die on Salt Lake City streets, mayor takes emergency action

Dec 20, 2022, 5:44 PM | Updated: 6:49 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Five people experiencing homelessness have died on the streets in Salt Lake City over the last five frigid days. So, the mayor is taking emergency action. She’s helping to add nearly 100 beds to the system.

Heading into the winter, the state and several cities worked together to provide 340 beds in overflow shelters. Earlier this month, on an average night, there were still more than 100 overflow beds available, until the temperatures dropped drastically.

“The overflow needs of this year demonstrate that we still need additional emergency shelter in the state system,” Erin Mendenhall, mayor of Salt Lake City said.

When temperatures plummeted last week, homeless individuals headed to the four Salt Lake County Homeless Resource Centers.

“The frigid temperatures lead to those beds over the weekend becoming effectively full,” Mendenhall said.

Sadly, five unsheltered individuals died. Mayor Mendenhall said exposure to the cold was likely a main factor.

“My heart goes out to everyone who knew and loved, and worked to serve the unsheltered individuals who passed away in just a few days here in Salt Lake City,” she said.

To avoid similar tragedies, an emergency order authorizes the Geraldine E King and Gail Miller homeless resource centers to add an additional 25 beds each.

“Right now, our resource centers have been running at capacity, pretty much all year round. So, it’s obvious to me that we need an additional shelter response,” Wayne Niederhauser, Utah Homeless Services Coordinator said.

The mayors of South Salt Lake and Millcreek will make similar orders for their overflow centers. That helps create a total of 95 new overflow beds for the system.

The state homeless services coordinator says they had more overflow beds available earlier than ever before, and thought they had a good plan in place, until the temperatures plummeted.

“That confidence has been shattered over the last week,” Niederhauser said. “With the amount of people that are accessing shelter. Even though we provided more beds than we ever have.”

The new beds won’t be available immediately because staffing remains an issue. The State has also agreed to provide the funding necessary to support staffing and provide the transportation necessary for increased capacity. That is a critical function to ensure people can get to, and be serviced by providers.

“We are not done. But today we are taking some bold action because we’re doing it together,” Mendenhall said.

The mayor admits that emergency housing is only a temporary fix for the roots of the problem, which include housing affordability. Salt Lake City and the county have committed to funding more than 400 permanent housing units, most of which will be available this spring.

If you or someone you know, needs shelter, call 801-990-9999.

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Five people die on Salt Lake City streets, mayor takes emergency action