Labor shortage still hurting homeless shelters, advocates say they can’t just hire the people who stay there

Feb 16, 2022, 6:07 PM
(The former Ramada Inn in Salt Lake City, which has been converted to house the homeless.  Photo: P...
(The former Ramada Inn in Salt Lake City, which has been converted to house the homeless. Photo: Paul Nelson, February 16, 2022)
(The former Ramada Inn in Salt Lake City, which has been converted to house the homeless. Photo: Paul Nelson, February 16, 2022)

SALT LAKE CITY — Cold, snowy weather has more homeless people turning to shelters in Salt Lake City to keep warm.  However, shelter managers say they’re still going through an intense staffing shortage. One center even had to close so another could have enough workers.

Homeless shelter staffing shortage

The Weigand Center overflow shelter opened in mid-January, with 35 more beds for people who needed them.  About a month later, the center closed because of staffing problems.  If you ask Salt Lake City Homelessness Policy and Outreach Director Andrew Johnston, he gives the Volunteers of America credit for keeping the Weigand Center open as long as they did, since it was short-staffed practically every day.

Johnston said, “I think they did the very best they could to keep it open every night.”

With the homeless shelter staffing shortage, officials believe it made more sense to shift workers to what used to be the Ramada Inn on North Temple near Redwood Road. It has far more beds than Weigand could provide. 

(The entrance of the new homeless shelter, which used to be the Ramada Inn in Salt Lake City. Photo: Paul Nelson)

Johnston says the city is doing everything it can to recruit more workers into homeless shelters. Mayor Erin Mendenhall is promoting the centers as good places to work.  Meanwhile, Johnston says the shelters are doing everything possible to make the jobs more inviting.

“The employers and the non-profits are raising their pay as much as they possibly can.  So, it’s a really tough situation all around,” he said.

Can homeless shelters hire the people who stay there?

Homeless advocates have been asked, many times, why can’t the centers train the people who stay at the shelters to work there, filling the staffing shortages?  Shelter the Homeless Executive Director Laurie Hopkins says the answer is just not that simple. 

Hopkins said, “There is a certain level of training, background checks and just standard policies around privacy and the way individuals are trained in order to serve the program.”

For example, if other shelter residents know that certain staffers live at the facility, then they wouldn’t be protected by the same level of privacy other workers get.  Plus, Hopkins says many of the people seeking shelter are in serious need of help and are not in any position to assist others.

“They’re often coming in tired, traumatized and in need of a little bit of help for a few hours,” Hopkins said.

KSL.com is reporting the shelter at St. Vincent de Paul will stay open every night. And the new beds at the Ramada will be available on a first come-first serve basis.


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Labor shortage still hurting homeless shelters, advocates say they can’t just hire the people who stay there