State leaders announce more shelters, beds available to homeless people this winter

Nov 9, 2023, 6:44 PM | Updated: 7:31 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah leaders said they will have more shelter beds this winter, as they’ll be cracking down on anti-camping laws. This comes as a new micro shelter community at 300 South and 600 West is nearing completion.

Utah’s Office of Homeless Services purchased 25 micro shelter units that will soon house 50 people. Assistant Director Tricia Davis said, in speaking with cities throughout the country, the office decided the pods were a better option than tents.

“We want people to be warm and safe and taken care of,” she said.

City leaders collaborated with her office on this project. $500,000 of the city’s funds cover the operating costs. The state paid $600,00 for the units.

“We’re hoping to have doors open Dec. 15,” Davis said. “It’ll all depend on different factors and who that service provider is.”

Once a service provider is selected, people can move into this 75 square foot space. Each pod has electricity, a bed, table and chairs, heating and cooling. Food will be prepared off site. A bathroom trailer will be on site and individuals will be referred to the Weigand Center for showers. Each tenant is also given a key to their own pod.

“People could lock the doors, their stuff is secure, and they do feel safe,” Davis said.

It’s a temporary stay. The goal is to help each person graduate to transitional housing.

“The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness has a housing prioritization group,” Davis explained. “It’s a group that identifies any available units, and prioritizes based on vulnerability.

Leaders said these pods and other overflow shelters will keep more people off the streets this winter

“The shelters have been full until this year’s beds began coming online in mid-October,” said Mayor Erin Mendenhall.

Workers inside of the microshelter. (Utah’s Office of Homeless Services)

At a press conference Thursday, Governor Spencer Cox said 30 facilities across Utah will be open this winter. He took the podium in front of a men’s and couples shelter in West Valley City that was formerly a state liquor store.

Mayor Mendenhall said there were 30 available beds at that facility Wednesday night.

Leaders said they will have double the number of beds available this year compared to last winter.

“We have allocated 200 Code Blue beds in Salt Lake County,” Gov. Cox said.

Their hope is individuals will choose shelter when it’s bitterly cold outside.

“When there are shelter beds available, our tolerance for people moving simply across the street or around the corner is not there,” Mendenhall said.

Camping in public spaces in Salt Lake City will not be allowed when shelter beds are open.

“If they’re defiant and they don’t want to leave, then a citation or jail is the option,” she said.

Microshelthers being built in Salt Lake City at 300 South and 600 West. (Utah’s Office of Homeless Services)

The police department has a van to help transport people to shelters. Mendenhall said their preference is for people to choose shelter.

“Our first option and our preference is always that people take shelter or accept other resources,” she said. “That could be a detox bed, motel vouchers, taking the phone and connecting with a family member or friend who they might be able to stay with.”

She said when there are no available beds, people will be able to stay in public spaces.

“The city’s enforcement options change because unsheltered individuals no longer have a choice to take a shelter bed,” Mendenhall said. “Courts have concluded that that is cruel, it violates the constitution.”

Microshelthers being built in Salt Lake City at 300 South and 600 West. (Utah’s Office of Homeless Services)

She said people who are repeatedly cited for camping will be taken to jail.

“People don’t have to go into shelters, but living in our public spaces is not an option,” Mendenhall said.

The speakers said the goal is to keep the city safe, the streets clean and keep the most vulnerable Utahns alive.

“People do need to be held accountable and, and, they need to have help, they need to have options,” Gov. Cox said.

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State leaders announce more shelters, beds available to homeless people this winter