Pioneer Park Coalition: HB440 removes accountability

The Pioneer Park Coalition strongly opposes the mandate to “flex” the occupancy limits within homeless resource centers, proposed within House Bill 440 (2nd substitute), currently being debated in the Utah State Legislature. 

Accountability in the form of public safety and outcomes for people experiencing homelessness are critical to any policies put forward by the legislature. House Bill 440 fails to address any of these measures and ignores the fact that we have added 699 additional shelter and recovery beds in Salt Lake County since 2016. To echo President Stuart Adams, “If you spend money without accountability, that doesn’t get the results you want.” As written, H.B. 440 will cost taxpayers over 10 million dollars and will only move the system in a negative direction, creating a more dire situation for the homeless and the communities impacted by ever-increasing demands from service providers.

Failing to require public safety data and accountability from providers risks recreating the crisis we found ourselves in in the Rio Grande neighborhood in 2017, but this time in three different neighborhoods simultaneously. Once elevated to that next level of concern, the costs for addressing public safety will far exceed the costs proposed in this bill. 

A cursory glance at either the Geraldine King women’s center on 700 South or the Gail Miller Resource Center on Paramount Avenue reveals how empty the promises to prevent loitering, camping, drug dealing, and violent crime were. Residents and business owners from the neighboring communities have spoken out in town halls and even in legislative committee meetings about their own disappointing and dangerous experiences living near the HRCs. 

HB 440 Irreparably Breaks Community Trust in Government and Homeless Service Providers

The occupancy limits (200 to 300 people per homeless resource center) put in place with the new homeless system were deliberate and intentional, following national best practices for the delivery of services and safety. In addition to putting people experiencing homelessness at greater risk, drastically increasing the capacity limits will brazenly break the promises made to local communities who agreed to take in the resource centers in their neighborhoods. 

In the state legislative audit “A Limited Review of Three Facilities Operated by The Road Home” published in May 2018, The Road Home identified a goal of limiting new facilities to 200 – 300 people to properly provide services:

The Road Home is an active participant in the Collective Impact and shelter planning process. We support the plan for new, smaller and population-specific facilities. The limit of 200 or 300 people in each facility will allow a much more personalized and client-focused housing and service program, including behavioral health support than we are funded to provide now.

With the proper level of resources and staffing ratio to the number of people staying in a shelter, we will be better equipped to achieve our community’s shared outcomes as identified by the Community Impact process.

Salt Lake City Planning Commission documents clearly show that Shelter the Homeless agreed to caps of 200 people per HRC in Salt Lake City in 2018 as a condition of approval of their operating agreement

These numbers did not escape the attention of the community. In 2018 Salt Lake City’s Central City Community Council stated “Our board strongly supports the conditions of use for the resource center that would mitigate these negative impacts. Primarily, it is crucial that the center maintain its 200 occupant cap throughout the life of its service. We also request assurances that the center will not provide meals to the general public, beyond those 200 clients utilizing their bed spaces. Allowing the resource center to evolve into a public dining hall would greatly increase the impact of the center on the surrounding community.” 

These limitations were revisited and referred to month after month at Salt Lake City community council meetings as residents and business owners met with the architects and service providers regarding the operating agreements and design elements of the shelters that were to prevent the queuing of clients, loitering, drug trade, and violent crime observed surrounding the previous downtown shelter in the Rio Grande neighborhood. 

Going back on the last of these very specific and direct promises made to the communities hosting the HRCs will irreparably violate community trust. 

If this bill passes as written in the second substitute, no municipality will be able to trust promises made to its citizens by Shelter The Homeless, homeless service providers, their elected officials, and the State of Utah. 

We applaud the sponsor and his continued effort to improve the homeless system. Unfortunately, this bill as currently written does not get to the heart of the issue.We strongly encourage the State Legislature to redraft the bill to address the needed changes for accountability and keep the promises made to the community regarding the protective caps that were promised by the state, county, and service providers.