The word "No" erected in large letters in a garden, festooned with lights.
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March 4, 2020; Salt Lake City Tribune

The years-long scrum around the development of three new shelters—or “resource centers”—for people who are homeless in the Salt Lake City area may now have gotten politicized to the point where none of the details matter. We long ago lost the thread of the jockeying for placement, profile, contracts, and control. In fact, many of those who may have originally wanted to be in the in group may be just as happy that they were left out, since the latest wrinkle involves a serious underbudgeting of the contracts that may now be hard to fix.

Within a year of opening, the nonprofit operating the centers says they’re in an “absolute emergency” and may need to cut services to come in under budget. That’s on top of looking for other dollars.

Since opening, service providers have identified a need for money to go toward additional security staff, transportation for clients, building maintenance and increased treatment for bedbugs. There are also extra expenses expected with setting up a new operator.

Leaders say that running the centers will take around $15 million a year. The budget is far enough short of that, they say, to have driven away one previous subcontractor, with two more refusing to consider a subcontract until the budget shortfalls are addressed.

In other words, bizarre as it may seem to those who too often take what we are given, these potential subcontractors are drawing a line when it comes to the business-as-usual arrangement of the state offloading the responsibility for robustly supplementing funding onto the nonprofits.

Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, said he has reached out to the operators of the other two resource centers—The Road Home and Volunteers of America Utah—to see if they would be interested in taking on a second center.

Their responses were “Yes, we would be interested if there’s a strong funding plan,” he told the board. “And I think that’s kind of what it boils down to. If the funds are there or not there, what’s the responsibility of the operator going to be in terms of raising those dollars to be able to operate the facility?”

This report reveals that in addition to the annual shortfall, Shelter the Homeless is carrying nearly $17 million of capital debt left over from their construction costs. A bill is being floated to retrospectively pay those costs down, as well.

As the links above indicate, plenty of time was spent in political infighting around this project. Maybe some of it should have been used in creating a budget with enough of a cushion to ensure a smooth launch, with all of the potential incidentals that come with that.—Ruth McCambridge