After three decades of serving Salt Lake City’s downtown homeless community, nonprofit The Road Home closed its doors for good in November, and a discussion that started nearly five years ago was finally put into action.
Operation Rio Grande prompted local and state agencies to move away from the concept of a large downtown shelter and replace it with three new resource centers focused on making homelessness brief and non-recurring. The new resource centers are focused on getting the homeless community the help it needs, and with more case workers now employed, they’re hoping this goal is obtainable.
The Road Home struggled for years to effectively help the homeless community. While the shelter could house 1,100 people, they only had two case workers on staff, which made case management and development extremely difficult for the large shelter.
Many of those involved in this transition are excited for the change.
“The Road Home security wasn’t very strict,” says a former detective with the Salt Lake City Police Department who has not been named because of the nature of their role. “I know it was easy to get drugs and/or weapons inside. This makes it difficult for those who are sincerely seeking services to feel safe inside the shelter. I contacted many people on the street who preferred to sleep outside rather than go into The Road Home.”
Social work manager Jessica Waters, who works alongside the police department, questioned the idea that keeping the facility open until the spring of 2020 would have made the transition easier for the homeless community.
“I was shocked that it actually closed, but I feel like if they had prolonged the closure again, they would have never shut it down,” says Waters.
The state purchased the 1.7 acres in the Rio Grande neighborhood in 2018 and set a hard closure date for the shelter for June 30, 2019. The closure of The Road Home was the culmination of Operation Rio Grande, but after several setbacks with the new South Salt Lake men’s resource center, the closure was pushed back.
The state was dedicated to having enough space available before closing The Road Home, so when the third and final shelter opened its doors on Nov. 5, 2019, the state was finally able to move forward.
Since the closure of The Road Home, the public has voiced concerns about the lack of beds during the cold winter months. Now, just weeks into her first term, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has responded to those cries for help.
Last Thursday, Mendenhall announced a plan to open a temporary emergency overnight shelter in Sugar House. The temporary zoning was passed Friday, and 140-145 additional beds will be available for those still in need of a warm place to go.
The Road Home has served the community for 96 years, and despite the large shelter closure, it isn’t going anywhere. The nonprofit, along with Volunteers of America and Catholic Community Services, oversees the new centers across the valley, including the new men’s resource center and a smaller family resource center in Midvale.