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Pioneer Park Coalition concerned about security at new homeless resource centers

(Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – Hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

Some business owners in downtown say The Road Home Shelter should have shut down by now, and they claim the delay is causing more concerns.  They believe the same criminal element that plagued the shelter for years could reappear in new homeless resource centers and they want changes to be made.

There was a reason why state officials, law enforcement and homeless advocates picked June 30th as the deadline to close The Road Home Shelter.  Former House Speaker Greg Hughes says they wanted to move those residents and have space ready before the weather gets cold.

“It would be an absolute tragedy if we don’t see this happen as successfully as we planned in the past,” Hughes says.

Now that the deadline has come and gone without the shelter shutting down, Hughes says they have less and less time to make sure security is in place in the new resource centers.  Some officials with the Pioneer Park Coalition have their doubts about the safety of low-barrier shelters, who will essentially take anyone who says they need help.

(Credit: Paul Nelson)

Pioneer Park Coalition Vice Chair David Kelly says, “It doesn’t matter if you’re drunk, if you’re high, if you have a name… anything.  We’ll give you shelter.”

Kelly says they’re very concerned about how people wouldn’t need to provide a real name to live in the centers.

“That’s what happens in the low-barrier shelters because you don’t have to give a name.  You don’t have to say who you are.  It just gets to where you can disappear,” he says.

He says that anonymity helped three separate drug cartels working near The Road Home to recruit homeless people to sell drugs or commit other crimes.  However, Shelter Executive Director Matt Minkevitch says they didn’t have nearly as much help from police as they do now, thanks to Operation Rio Grande.

“We’ve had an unprecedented level of law enforcement involvement to help our community root out some of the severe problems,” Minkevitch says.

He believes that level of police assistance needs to stay the same if they want to eliminate the criminal element at shelters.  Also, he says the vast majority of people who come for shelter are using their real names.

“If someone is using an alias and if Adult Parole and Probation is looking for [them], they’re going to be asking us if someone has been presenting themselves, and we can share that information,” he adds.

Other advocates say there are people in need who will avoid getting shelter because of security measures like check-ins and metal detectors.  Shelter The Homeless Executive Director Preston Cochrane says their main goal is just to convince people to reach out for help.

Cochrane says, “Really, at the end of the day, it’s, ‘How do we connect clients with services?  How do we get people to step out of homelessness and into housing.”