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All 3 new homeless shelters now under construction after slow start in South Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY — After a rocky start, dirt is moving at the site of South Salt Lake homeless resource center, along with the two other shelter sites in Salt Lake City now under construction.

Shelter the Homeless, the owner of the three new centers slated to replace the Road Home's downtown shelter when it's expected to shut down in summer 2019, now has less than a year to complete construction on the three shelters.

Preston Cochrane, Shelter the Homeless' executive director, said Thursday construction is on track to be completed by June 30, 2019, the deadline for the shutdown of the downtown shelter.

"We're pleased with the progress being made and just hope to keep things on schedule so we can open in July of 2019," Cochrane said.

A shopping cart and its contents are abandoned at the entrance of a homeless shelter construction site at 275 High Ave. in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 26, 2018.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

A shopping cart and its contents are abandoned at the entrance of a homeless shelter construction site at 275 High Ave. in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 26, 2018.

Groundbreaking for the South Salt Lake 300-bed men's shelter was held up for months amid city permitting issues, so its schedule is a little tight, Cochrane said, but he expects to make up for two to three weeks of lost time during the construction process.

"Things are on schedule," Cochrane said.

Up against tight deadlines, state officials were poised to step in and build the shelter as a state facility if South Salt Lake city officials couldn't resolve planning and permitting issues in time — meaning the shelter wouldn't have to follow regular city planning processes — but that ended up not being necessary, Cochrane said.

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood, who vehemently fought the shelter after its site was picked in her city, said city officials were able to work through the permitting issues in time.

But the mayor continues to have lingering concerns about the shelter.

"Who will manage it? What will the rules be? What's going to be enforced? Will drugs and weapons be on site?" Wood said. "Those types of things are on the forefront of my mind."

A recent audit of the Road Home found widespread drug use and lax security within the downtown shelter also raised concerns, Wood said.

But those concerns and questions about how the shelter will be managed, Wood said, should be addressed by the planning commission in August, as they work through details for the second phase of the project's conditional use permit. The first phase, approved in May, only dealt with the site and building requirements and cleared the way for the groundbreaking. Phase two of the permit, having to do with how the facility will operate, still needs to be approved.

Shelter the Homeless is expected to choose providers for the three new facilities by mid-September. Another provider to manage the new homeless system's coordinated entry program will also be chosen after the competitive bid process closes in August, Cochrane said.

The construction of a homeless shelter at 3380 S. 1000 West is underway in South Salt Lake on Thursday, July 26, 2018.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The construction of a homeless shelter at 3380 S. 1000 West is underway in South Salt Lake on Thursday, July 26, 2018.

Meanwhile, questions have continued to linger of whether the three shelters — 300 beds for men, 200 beds for women and 200 beds for a mixed-gender facility — will be enough to serve the Road Home's current population.

Some political leaders, including members of the Salt Lake City Council, have raised doubts, and there is still a $2 million emergency set-aside in the state's budget for an overflow shelter as a worst-case scenario. But Cochrane said there are still no plans "for an additional shelter other than the three already in development."

A working group of homeless advocates has been studying ways to help people who may avoid seeking shelter at one of the resource centers and prefer to camp outdoors, Cochrane said.

Pamela Atkinson, a well-known homeless advocate, is one of the members of that working group.

"We are literally asking homeless people, 'What would it take to get you off the street and inside,'" Atkinson said.

Many people say "I just need a room," Atkinson said, so the group is exploring ways to propose alternative housing to those who don't want to stay in a resource center. She also said there are no plans for a fourth shelter.

Instead, the group is exploring a different type of housing — perhaps something similar to a "single-room occupancy" building, she said.

"There are all kinds of possibilities, so we're trying to look at what is best practices and looking at the needs of our homeless friends," Atkinson said. "We need to have a strategic plan in place so that, bottom line, no homeless person is left behind."

Atkinson said the group plans to make recommendations to the state's homeless committee on Aug. 8.