Mayors submit winter overflow plan for homeless, but reveal few details

Aug 2, 2023, 12:00 PM

Wayne Niederhauser speaks at a press conference. Salt Lake County mayors submitted a plan for winte...

Wayne Niederhauser, state homeless coordinator, talks about the plan for overflow homeless shelters for this upcoming winter during a press conference in Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County mayors submitted a plan for winter overflow shelter plans for unsheltered individuals to the Utah Office of Homeless Services as required by state law on Tuesday.

But they revealed very few details about that plan.

“This year, we’ve come together as state, county, cities and providers and individuals with lived experience to identify needs and establish potential solutions early enough to address the gaps we have identified in our collaborative process. Our goal is to implement this plan by late October so we are ready to meet the needs when winter arrives,” said Jean Hill, Salt Lake County director of Criminal Justice Initiatives, in a press conference Tuesday.

State law requires cities to come together and submit a plan for summer and winter overflow to the Utah Office of Homeless Services for approval by Aug. 1. If such a plan isn’t submitted, or if a plan is insufficient, the state would then have the ability to increase capacity at existing homeless resource centers and use state-owned facilities to provide space for overflow needs.

“We started working on this soon as the ink was dry on the legislation that revised what we were dealing deal with this winter. The plan that we have come up with is far more robust than what we had last year in terms of number of beds, in terms of different facilities,” said Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini.

The law, HB440, was passed by the 2022 Utah Legislature with a Sept. 1 deadline but was amended in the most recent session.

“It was too short of a window for the state to review and to implement a plan. We did open up a shelter by Nov. 1 which is earlier than we’d ever done before, but it was still really hard to do that,” explained State Homeless Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser.

The Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness identified 400 beds for winter overflow last year. Despite failing to meet the 400 needed beds outlined by the coalition, city leaders submitted a plan that was ultimately rejected by the state office. The insufficient plan triggered the state’s ability to increase capacity at homeless shelters to meet demand.

While the plan had been released earlier than ever before with more beds than before, ultimately it was not enough to meet the need. At least eight unsheltered individuals died on Utah’s streets during this past winter season.

Officials revealed that the tentative plan for this year would create 600 additional beds for overflow shelter needs this winter. The beds would operate on a 24-hour basis, instead of last year’s 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. schedule. Additionally, an approximate 200 beds would be provided in a “code blue” event. The protocol was created in the recent legislative session after the deaths.

The “code blue” is intended to prevent deaths on some of the coldest nights in the winter by requiring homeless resource centers to expand capacity by 35% and allow other entities to open warming centers. The code would be declared by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services when temperatures reach 15 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

But officials did not identify where those beds would be created or specific details of the plan, including proposed locations. When asked for more information regarding the plan, officials emphasized the plan’s dependency on proposed funding.

“The funding from the Legislature had happened before our most recent Point-In-Time count data came out, and the work that’s been happening has been an evolution of what’s happening on our streets. And so, the details are not being revealed today but will be revealed after the state has reviewed the plan,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.

“It’s not a victory lap. We still have a lot of work to do. We particularly have a lot of work to do in finding the funding that’s necessary,” added Silvestrini. “Some of the solution here will be more permanent than other parts of it — parts of it might be essentially permanent additional supportive housing, but it’s tough to know what exactly will fall in place until those processes layout and until the funding is in place.”

Specific projects of upcoming permanent supportive housing that were factored into the plan were not identified Tuesday. The state has 15 days to review the plan in full but will review it by Aug. 10 in an upcoming council meeting, said Niederhauser.


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Mayors submit winter overflow plan for homeless, but reveal few details