MIDVALE — Already faced with Utah’s first heavy snowfall, Salt Lake County homeless officials this week had hoped to finalize details on two facilities to help house the homeless as part of a winter overflow plan.
But then, Midvale Mayor Robert Hale publicly voiced opposition to using a hotel — the La Quinta Inn east of the Midvale Family Family Shelter on 7200 South — as part of that plan.
“What can we do to request a change?” Hale asked during the State Homeless Coordinating Committee meeting on Tuesday. State officials, in response, told him the decision was up to the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness.
The coalition has spent months trying to come up with a solution to bring the homeless camping on the streets out of the cold, after Salt Lake City leaders promised last year’s winter shelter, the Sugar House Temporary Shelter, would be just that — temporary. It shuttered in April.
Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has further strained Utah’s homeless system, putting pressure on homeless resource centers’ ability to fill their beds to capacity while keeping clients safe and socially distant. Salt Lake County has also executed contracts with other hotels to house homeless who are at “high-risk” to COVID-19.
But Hale, in an interview with the Deseret News on Wednesday, said the small, 6-square-mile city of Midvale can’t take any more impacts from homelessness, already the host of the 300-bed Midvale Family Shelter just across I-15. Another 140 homeless adults housed in the hotel, Hale said, would put too much pressure on Midvale’s already strained police resources.
“It’s not that I dislike the homeless. I feel for them. I love them as a brother,” Hale said, explaining how he and his wife on multiple occasions have helped house and feed homeless individuals under their own roof. “But when the county drops a bombshell on us of putting up to 140 homeless into a motel … it’s going to overwhelm our little city.”
Hale said if that many more homeless individuals are housed in Midvale, “it’s going to bring additional issues that we are not able to provide safety from.” He said that area around the La Quinta, including the nearby Motel 6, is already a “crime hotspot” that “keeps our police very busy.”
Jean Hill, co-chair of the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, said the Midvale mayor had raised some concerns during a walk-through of the La Quinta a week ago, but she was caught off guard by his public opposition.
“We thought we addressed those concerns,” she said.
Hill said the coalition “carefully reviewed” eight sites in multiple cities using a series of criteria created based on experiences last winter.