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Salt Lake City shelter closure spurs homelessness concerns

People walk in front of The Road Home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — Ogden officials are bracing for an influx of homeless people later this year when a major shelter in Salt Lake City is scheduled to close.

The Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City that holds up to 1,000 people will be closing down and three new shelters opening in its place are designed to house 700 people. That decline in beds for homeless people will likely lead many of them to head north to Ogden, said Jay Stretch, the executive director of the Lantern House shelter in Ogden. The shelter is already at capacity, the Standard-Examiner reports .

Ogden saw an increase in homeless people in 2017 when the state launched a law enforcement blitz called Operation Rio Grande in Salt Lake City to clean up crime near the Road Home shelter, according to Ogden officials.

“The issue in Ogden is becoming way out of hand,” state Sen. David Buxton, a Republican from nearby Roy, Utah, said at a recent legislative budget committee. “The trouble from people under bridges, stealing, damaging car lots — they have been documenting this for over a year.”

Buxton’s request last month for legislators to divert $8 million in state funds designated for Salt Lake City’s homeless projects to help Ogden failed.

However, Utah Department of Public Safety director Jess Anderson said that the $8 million is to keep 46 Utah Highway Patrol troopers in the area near the Salt Lake City shelter through 2020.

Homelessness is often believed to be a byproduct of crime but that’s not always the case, Lantern House development director Lauren Navidomskis said.

“A lot of times they have mental health problems and suicidal ideation,” she said, but being in a safe place can help.

Ogden is a city of 87,000 about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Salt Lake City.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, a Republican from Provo, said the current plan is “a well-defined project, specific to Salt Lake. That is the project, not Ogden.”

Ogden spent $1.2 million last year on police and fire services tied to homelessness, Ogden chief administrative officer Mark Johnson said. He said the state should help out.

The Legislature is currently working on putting in $917,000 toward a grant program aimed at fighting community homelessness for 2020.