SALT LAKE CITY -- Mayor Jackie Biskupski and members of the City Council have reached an agreement on new homeless shelters.
Where the mayor wanted a pair of 250-bed shelters, there will now be four shelters, with no more than 150 beds. The council wanted smaller shelters. While the council and the mayor were also in disagreement over who decides where the new shelters go, the decisions will be made jointly.
"This work will undoubtedly be difficult, but we are in this together," Mayor Biskupski said at a news conference Friday.
The agreement, reached Friday morning, comes after weeks of division, hours of closed-door negotiations and even a little political intrigue that played out in front of TV cameras and reporters.
The Salt Lake City Council called a news conference early Friday morning to discuss homeless issues. But council members then met behind closed doors with Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, House Speaker Greg Hughes and representatives of Mayor Biskupski's office. After about 90 minutes of talks, council staffers were seen running papers back and forth down the long hallway to the mayor's office.
Hughes left the meeting at one point and walked down to the mayor's office. Minutes later, he walked back with Mayor Biskupski and they both went into the closed-door meeting. A short time later, all of them walked into the council chambers to announce the agreement.
"Good things come to those that wait and we've had a great process," Salt Lake City Council Chairman James Rogers told reporters.
They announced the smaller shelters, which will be focused on specific populations (like single, vulnerable women).
"Smaller facilities are going to be incrementally more expensive to build and more expensive to operate," Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said.
Mayor Biskupski said she believed she could reallocate funds to keep the cost of the smaller shelters low, minimizing taxpayer burden. She said her office has begun the process of looking for specific sites.
"We are using the site selection criterial that was prioritized by the community to determine where these potential sites could be," she said.
House Speaker Hughes, R-Draper, had suggested in an interview with FOX 13 on Thursday that lawmakers might yank the $27 million in taxpayer dollars allocated for homeless services if they didn't see movement on the issue and soon. On Friday, he told reporters that the announcement on the new shelter sites is a good start.
"It's absolutely not enough, but it's how you get to enough," he said. "This is coming together."
The shelter agreement was praised by the Downtown Alliance, which represents local businesses. Downtown Alliance Communications Director Nick Como said people are anxious to see results to deal with the problems surrounding the downtown homeless shelters.
On Thursday, Mayor Biskupski announced a crackdown on crime targeting the areas around the shelters. In total, 49 people were arrested for offenses ranging from intoxication to drugs and warrants. The mayor said 30 of those were referred to treatment instead of jail. (Ten of them walked away from treatment and will face criminal charges.) One person was sent to the hospital and the rest were sent to jail.