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Emergency homeless meeting comes amid frigid weather concerns

FILE: Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in October 2019. The Cox for Governor Campaign announced it is the first campaign to submit its signatures to be included on the Republican primary ballot. (Photo courtesy of Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Bitterly cold temperatures in the valley this week are pushing issues of homelessness to the front of state leader’s minds as they held an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

The meeting produced a few announcements, including near-immediate occupancy permits issued at The Road Home’s South Salt Lake shelter.  Lt. Governor Spencer Cox told reporters after the meeting that staff can begin moving in Thursday ahead of arrival of residents in the middle of November.

Cox discussed the closing of the Road Home’s downtown shelter in four weeks.  The 1,100-bed emergency shelter has been the subject of political and public scrutiny after a state audit found drug and security issues.

“We’ll get back together in four weeks and see where we are, but the plan right now is to close the shelter. Keeping the downtown shelter open would be a step backward and a step away from the new system,” Cox said. “The sooner we do this, the sooner we focus on the new model, the sooner the focus will truly be on housing first.”

No additional overflow option was announced, but Cox said a plan was discussed to decrease the demand with housing, residential treatment beds, and utilization of current overflow at St. Vincent de Paul’s dining hall.  The plan also includes using up to 50 motel vouchers and filling up to 78 drug treatment beds provided through Odyssey House.  A new housing push over the next four weeks would use up to $1 million from the state and the city to get people in need into housing.  Cox called on landlords to be part of the solution. A similar call to landlords was made in April, and they were able to house 134 people between April and August, according to Cox.

Wednesday’s meeting, spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Cox, also included House Speaker Brad Wilson, Senate President Stuart Adams, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s deputy chief of staff David Litvack. Mayor Biskupski didn’t attend because she was traveling back from Washington D.C.  Also in attendance was prominent local homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson.