The Salt Lake City Council Tuesday got its closest look yet at the depth, breath and intractability of the homeless problem that has become a “health-and-safety emergency” in the Pioneer Park area of downtown.
Salt Lake County Health Department Director Gary Edwards, Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown and administrators from the Road Home shelter, briefed the council at a work session on the problem that has exploded this summer.
What’s painfully obvious is the selection of new shelter locations (the county had recommended two centers, the city, four smaller ones) that officials alleged would be set by November (the deadline has always been an ever-moving target) won’t be because of a lengthy public process and the ever-souring politics between the mayor and city council.
If nothing else, former Mayor Palmer DePaulis, who is a co-chair of the city’s Homeless Services Site Evaluation Commission, sagely tutored the council and, by extension, Mayor Jackie Biscupski’s staff on how to move forward. DePaulis should know—the homeless shelters in the Rio Grande district were established in the late 1980s during his regime and long before the troubled Rio Grande neighborhood became valuable real estate.
In his low-key way, DePaulis explained to the council how to enlist public acceptance of the sites for the new homeless shelters that have already triggered the predictable NIMBYism.
The key, DePaulis says, is to do a “good process” that’s open, transparent and involves as many citizens as possible to ensure they will “own” the eventual decision. He passed on a bit of political advice he had been given by former Gov. Scott Matheson. “The secret to all this is to ‘Stay lucky,’ ” DePaulis said. “When you are open and you are transparent—you are creating your own luck and you are going to stay lucky and stay on top of it.”
The city has launched a sweep to meet the immediate drug-dealing problems in the Rio Grande district. The campaign emphasizes diverting homeless addicts into treatment programs rather than jail.
An indication of the petty politics the council is capable of emerged at the meeting when Council Member Lisa Adams complained that because of the crisis at Pioneer Park, her Sugar House businesses have been complaining that they aren’t see enough bike cops. The chief promised that Adams would see cops on bicycles “tomorrow, if not sooner.”
So much for the big picture.
As for successfully dealing with homelessness in a sustainable, long-term way, DePaulis offered the council a not-exactly-earth-shattering approach:
— Prevention—get people help before they slide into homelessness.
— Provide affordable housing with support.
— Provide effective job placement, mental-health and addiction treatment programs to the homeless, “and allow people to have dignity.”
Considering the understanding, savvy and humanity DePaulis has brought to the homeless crisis—the best solution for Salt Lake might be to proclaim DePaulis mayor again by public acclamation. Or wish Jackie a lot of luck.