- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Leaders in Utah’s capital are considering relocating several key homeless services away from a downtown park and bustling business area.

Salt Lake City officials have tried for years to find ways to discourage homeless people from frequenting Pioneer Park, but now officials are joined by business leaders and even Utah’s governor, who say it’s time to take a serious look at moving facilities that serve the city’s homeless.

Mayor Ralph Becker plans to do just that, announcing in recent weeks a new committee that will consider finding a new home for a shelter, dining hall, clinic and other services.

Pamela Atkinson, an advocate for the homeless, has praised the idea.

“The bottom line is, we all have to listen to one another and seek solutions for homeless people as well as businesspeople,” Atkinson said. “Mayor Becker has made it clear all options are on the table, whether it’s relocating or rehabilitating.”

As Salt Lake City has expanded, the park and nearby homeless services have become part of the city’s center over the years, causing friction with downtown development.

In 1996, city officials fenced off the park, but nearby residents and businesses said that left homeless people with nowhere to go but right outside nearby homes and stores.

The city considered but abandoned a plan in 2004 that would have relocated all homeless services onto one block.

Now that the area appears poised for redevelopment, there could be more community and political support for a move, including the backing of Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.

Herbert’s spokesman, Marty Carpenter, told The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/1JkBFvv ) the governor questions the shelter’s current location near the park and historic Rio Grande Depot.

“There is no question historic Pioneer Park and the Rio Grande area have become magnets for the homeless, bringing to these areas an increased incidence in arrests for drugs, violent crime and sexual solicitation,” Carpenter said.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis, a chairman of Becker’s new committee, said the opening of The Gateway mall nearby in 2001 intensified the push to transform the area.

A city redevelopment agency is now pushing to add new buildings, including high-density housing, near the park. That’s expected to attract more restaurants and stores.

Another group, called the Pioneer Park Coalition, formed earlier this year to work on reviving the neighborhood.

The coalition, made of up nearby developers, business owners and police, has talked about renovating or moving the emergency shelter and is now raising money to build 300 housing units for the homeless.

Former state Sen. Scott Howell, a leader of the coalition, said his group is awaiting recommendations from Becker’s new committee.

Despite the business support, some city council members on the city’s west side say they’re concerned the facilities will be moved to their area.

“I don’t think it will help the community to be successful,” Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said.

Matt Minkevitch, executive director of the Road Home shelter, wouldn’t comment on whether it should move but said it’s important that homeless people using the shelter and nearby soup kitchen can easily access the clinic and other services.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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