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The City Journals

SSL takes a hands-on approach with the Men’s Resource Center

Apr 28, 2021 01:08PM ● By Bill Hardesty

The Men’s Resource Center is 17 months old. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

About 17 months ago, Shelter the Homeless opened the Homeless Resource Center (now known as the Men's Resource Center) on 1000 West. Businesses and residents voiced their concerns. How has the city responded?

“I hope their concerns have reduced. We as a city have more direct communication with residents and business owners related to homelessness,” said Lindsey Edwards, South Salt Lake Homeless Outreach and Strategies director.

Edwards reports directly to SSL Mayor Cherie Wood, with her primary responsibility being to ensure compliance with the conditional use permit (CUP). It took many months to approve the CUP, and multiple agencies signed it. 

“[The CUP] is the framework from which we manage all of the moving pieces that impact the MRC and the surrounding community,” Edwards explained. “It outlines all of the rules and regulations for operating the facility and minimizing the impacts of the facility on the surrounding community. I am responsible for creating the system of processes and procedures to manage the partnership of agencies represented in the CUP.”

One way Edwards does this is by holding a monthly meeting for residents and businesses. She provides updates on facility operations and presents monthly data from the police and fire department. She also gives monthly reports to the city council.

“It is a cross-sector group comprised of service providers, government agencies, local partner nonprofits and city staff. We are all there to address residents' and business owners' concerns and provide updates,” Edwards said.

Currently, the meeting is held over Zoom and is open to the public. The meeting is typically held on the third Wednesday from 3:30-5 p.m. Information about the meeting is found on SSLC.com or by contacting Edwards directly at [email protected].

Edwards earned a master's degree in social work from Columbia University and worked in New York for the NYC Department of Homeless Services. Before living in New York, Edwards was a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda for two-and-a-half years. She represents SSL in the larger homelessness system at the county and state levels.

The role of Homeless Resource Center Officers

SSLPD has six officers and one sergeant assigned to homeless issues. They work directly with the staff at the MRC, who are The Road Home employees. The Road Home was contracted to oversee operations at the MRC, owned by Shelter the Homeless. 

“It is important to build a rapport with the MRC residents and the community at large,” Officer Chad Leetham said.

Before the MRC opened, HRC officers worked with other city departments to remove foliage from the Jordan River trail. Their goal is to have a clear view from the trail to the river, preventing individuals from setting up a camp in the bush. It is coming, but there still is more that needs to be done.

“We work in close collaboration to minimize the impact of the facility on the surrounding community as well as ensuring the safety of the guests at the facility,” Edwards said.

The language choice is to refer to the men accessing the MRC as guests, reducing the stigma of living at the MRC. When COVID-19 hit, guidelines were implemented to keep MRC residents safe.

“The Road Home staff are heroes. They were incredibly proactive from the onset of the pandemic,” Edwards said.

The staff stays in touch with the health department to ensure they follow all CDC guidelines for congregate living settings, with a professional service cleaning weekly. They enforced mask mandates before the state did and closed the facility to outside volunteers and community partners. They worked in collaboration with the Fourth Street Clinic to provide weekly testing events.

“I think their quick response and commitment to maintaining the right safety procedures is the reason the MRC has seen fewer cases than other facilities,” Edwards said.

How to get involved

Edwards suggests that if residents or businesses are concerned about crime-related actions, they should call the police. For other issues, Edwards encourages residents to reach out to her or city council members.

Another way is to get involved is to attend the monthly outreach meetings. Because of COVID-19, volunteers are not allowed in the facility. Hopefully, that will be changing soon. Until then, people who want to get involved are encouraged to volunteer at a partner agency. Edwards says Tracy Aviary has a great partnership with the MRC.