Michael A. Kruse
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY — City Councilman John Rogers held the list above his head.
“Where is the west side representation?” he asked.
Rogers held the list of members of the Homeless Site Evaluation Committee. The committee is tasked with evaluating services for the homeless in the city, including determining whether the current site in downtown Salt Lake needs to be moved.
The commission formed to get input from business and political leaders as well as homeless service providers. The council expressed concern that all the people on the list stand to gain from moving the shelter.
Members from the committee and the mayor’s administration presented updates to the council Jan. 21. Former mayor Palmer DePaulis, co-chairperson of the committee joined Mayor Ralph Becker’s Deputy Chief of Staff for the mayor Jill Love to report to the council.
Many have raised concerns about crime and public safety because of the concentration of homeless services in downtown Salt Lake City. City Council members also want to make sure that the homeless are able to get access to the services they need to get back on their feet.
Councilman Neil Lamaya expressed concern over moving the homeless to a place where they would be more disadvantaged than they already are. He wants to make sure if a new location is chosen there is adequate access to jobs and transportation.
“Wherever we move this (the shelter) someone is going to lose and there’s no one who stands to lose on this list,” said Lamaya
The council chided the Mayor Ralph Becker administration for cutting them out of the process and not communicating with the Council.
“You’ve made some significant missteps up to this point in not including the council in this commission,” said Council Chairman Neil Garrott. “You have some corrections to make.”
The council took issue with the lack of involvement from other neighborhoods in the city. They also questioned why there are no academics on the commission or no homeless experts from outside the state. Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall suggested bringing in a well-known expert from Seattle to help appraise the problem.
Councilman Charlie Luke said the commission should add two council members to the group. He suggested one from the Salt Lake area and another who represents District 4, the west side, to represent the people who live in the neighborhood.
Mendenhall compared the possible relocation to the current backlash over the proposed relocation of the state prison at Point of the Mountain, saying it’s starting to look similar and that the commission needs to involve the public sooner rather later.
Love, Becker’s deputy chief of staff, said that there is no presumption of moving the shelter and if the mayor decides to move it they would find ways to involve members of the community. She also rejected the claim that they have lacked communication with the council.
“We tried to include them. We talked to all of them one on one, in formal conversations, informal conversations and tonight was an attempt to include them,” Love said.
Despite the concerns, Rogers and Mendenhall both expressed their respect for DePaulis.
“It’s been a little awkward, but this is just one conversation out of many conversations,” Mendenhall said.