Salt Lake City mayor tries to block new overflow homeless shelter
Mayor Erin Mendenhall tries to block a land contract to build overflow protection in the Ballpark district.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall took emergency measures Monday to ban new homeless shelters for the next six months, a move aimed at halting plans for an overflow shelter in Salt Lake City’s Ballpark neighborhood.
The mayor announced her temporary measure during an online local council meeting, stressing that she continues to support the need for an additional 300 makeshift beds this winter.
“We absolutely have a crisis over the need for winter flood shelters,” she said at a joint meeting of Central 9th and Ballpark local councils. “And my actions today do not prevent a provider from applying for a conditional user permit for this winter.”
Mendenhall said she was frustrated that there had been no public trial of trying to convert a detox center into permanent overflow shelter that could accommodate 80 to 100 people at 252 W. Brooklyn Ave. This overflow shelter wouldn’t be available this winter but could be online in 2022.
The proposal, which is still under consideration, calls for the Volunteers of America Utah to sell the property to the nonprofit organization Shelter the Homeless, in part using $ 3 million in government funds. The VOA will move its Detox Center to Redwood Road in 2022.
Mendenhall is on the board of directors of Shelter the Homeless. She said she was unaware of the possible purchase until the day the Utah Homeless Coalition met to vote on it. She now says there is a “blatant need” for more public engagement before a new animal shelter is built in a city.
Mendenhall’s emergency response blocks any amendment to ordinance that provides permanent housing for six months unless it puts one to the city council. It also requires that the city council consider creating separate rules for housing permanent as opposed to temporary.
Mendenhall originally backed the Brooklyn Avenue plan as a member of the Utah Housing Coalition, but she has since reversed course and now says the project was portrayed as temporarily flawed. She also argues that Salt Lake City has too much responsibility for supplying the state’s vulnerable population.
The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness has been looking for additional locations for overflow protection and sponsored the Brooklyn Avenue deal.
“The coalition is not looking for further permanent shelter,” said Jean Hill, co-chair of the group, on Monday, “although we are looking for a special facility to meet temporary overflow needs in extreme temperatures.”
Hill said that if Salt Lake City is to stop providing permanent housing, “we as a state must agree to invest heavily in deeply affordable and permanent supportive housing to help people move out of homelessness and stay housed more quickly.”
Mendenhall is on board. She is among a group of advocates calling on the state to set up a $ 200 million fund to support affordable housing with the help of federal pandemic aid.