Should resource center move forward, county reps want best possible facility
Salt Lake County’s Patrick Reimherr, director of government relations, and Shaleane Gee, director of special projects and partnerships, speak during a Sugar House Community Council meeting at the Sprague Library. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
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Salt Lake County representatives were on hand at the Sugar House Community Council meeting on Feb. 1 to answer questions and hopefully ease concerns about the proposed homeless resource center set to be built at 653 E. Simpson Ave.
Shaleane Gee, director of special projects and partnerships with Salt Lake County, and Patrick Reimherr, director of government relations and senior advisor to County Mayor Ben McAdams; responded to residents’ inquiries about affordable housing, the model being used and fiscal responsibility among others.
“Our mandate is to try to build the best housing and homelessness system we can for our residents in Salt Lake County,” Reimherr said.
While Gee and Reimherr reminded residents a few times that they were not involved in the selection process—discovering site locations the same time as everyone else—they did answer questions as best they could.
Data to back up this experimental model?
In response to one question that touched on the experimental nature of the resource center process, Gee hoped to squash that notion by saying there was no experiment when it came to the model for resource centers with its construction or arrangement.
“There are standard national practices for how you look at specific populations, how you program a facility. We’ve done extensive work on that, we have national providers on our committee. There’s no experiment on the model for resource centers,” Gee said.
She said she thinks where that idea came from has to do with a Pay for Success housing program that’s meant to help people who experience longer stays at the Rio Grande shelter.
“It’s a program that is unique and somewhat untested in its financing because it takes private sector capital and puts it into a program. And if the programs are successful then the government entity pays for the programs. If they aren’t successful, the private sector loses their philanthropic or investment dollars,” Gee said.
Budgets? Fiscally responsible?
A little over $9 million came to the county as part of the first segment from a $27 million legislative request to fund shelters and services for people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s not common for Salt Lake County or for Salt Lake City to go to the legislature and receive the amount of support that we’ve been able to receive,” Reimherr said. He noted they report to the state homeless coordinating committee every other month that includes detailed budgets “where you can see where every dollar we’re requesting is going.”
In response to one resident’s inquiry about contingency plans should the funding fall through, Gee said, “That funding is there for the program. No resource facilities will go forward without a significant and highly vetted funding program, including ongoing operations.”
What kind of shelter?
The shelters are meant to treat different populations: single men, single women, mixed gender with no children and families with children.
“The only population that would work here in Sugar House is families with kids. And even from a collective impact and service point of view, and even within that larger rubric, we would be talking most likely about a very specific profile of families, probably single families with kids,” Gee said.
Efforts at the center would most likely not aim to draw down numbers at the Rio Grande location, she said, but would work in conjunction with the Midvale Family Shelter, domestic violence shelters or the planned residential rehabilitation facilities.
When it comes to a women and children population, Gee said you want integration in the community while others may need more security issues, access to food, access to health care.
“You want access to be able keep kids in that community who are on the verge of becoming homeless or need a short term (stay),” Gee said. “That goes to why we think this particular location would serve not just a specific population, but a specific profile of a family kind of unit.”
Gee stressed the county’s initiative to end child homelessness keeping kids in their homes and how a women and children facility would serve the larger family shelter system.
But would kids entering the shelter disrupt the schools near the resource center? Not if the federal mandate is followed that says kids need to stay in their original schools when faced with entering a shelter.
That became important during the meeting when people voiced their concerns about the shelter disrupting nearby schools. With the federal mandate, it means students must be bused from the shelter to their school. That’s what currently happens at the Midvale Family Shelter.
“We want kids to stay in their schools without any disruption to their schools and an emergency resource facility needs to facilitate that significantly,” Gee said.