Bill mandating counties to provide homeless shelters, enforce camping laws passes Utah House
Mar 1, 2023, 9:00 AM | Updated: Oct 26, 2023, 1:19 pm
(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY — The snow had begun falling and Hailee Hernandez, the basic needs coordinator for the Christian Center of Park City, was unsure what to do for her client who was only equipped with shorts and shoes with no laces.
Hernandez was able to dress the man in warmer clothes that had been donated, purchase minutes for his phone and provide a suitcase for his items.
The man requested to be sent to Salt Lake County to seek shelter in one of the county’s homeless resource centers. With no other option, Hernandez sent her client to Salt Lake City like he had asked, with a sleeping bag in hand in case he had to sleep on the streets.
While the winter overflow system in Salt Lake County has been expanded this winter, the availability of beds has been a consistent issue. On some of the coldest nights of the winter, advocates recall having to turn away unsheltered people due to capacity concerns.
“We still turn away 10 to 25 people every single night on the nights that are the very coldest and the most dangerous,” said Wendy Garvin, executive director of Unsheltered Utah. “We’ve seen people come in barefoot, without coats and without any options to keep themselves alive on those frigid nights. For anyone who believes this bill isn’t needed, I urge you to come in and turn people away at 2 a.m. without shoes.”
The system was overhauled after the Utah Legislature passed a bill last year that required leaders to come up with a homeless shelter overflow plan for the winter. Despite the new framework getting more beds on line faster than ever, it still fell short, State Homeless Director Wayne Niederhauser said.
HB499, which has now passed the House and is on its way to the Senate, is meant to address some of the shortfalls discovered this winter, including introducing a “code blue” that would be determined by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services when temperatures reach 15 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The code would require resource centers to expand capacity by 35% and allow other entities to open warming centers.
The system would allow camping during a code blue or when homeless resource centers are at capacity.
- Amends the previous deadline faced by city leaders to create a plan for winter overflow from Sept. 1 to Aug. 1.
- Increases the state mitigation fund that helps cities that host homeless shelters or winter overflow facilities.
- Requires cities with camping bans on the books to enforce them with few exceptions, in order for them to receive mitigation funding.
- Directs counties with populations of at least 175,000 to create a plan to help unsheltered residents in the winter beginning in 2024. The requirement would include Utah, Davis, Weber and Washington counties.