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Sugar House residents want funding cut over homeless shelter sites

SALT LAKE CITY -- Angry Sugar House residents who oppose a homeless shelter in their neighborhood urged a legislative budget committee to cut funding for homeless services unless it's dropped from the area.

"Please do not give Salt Lake City any money to implement this plan," George Chapman, a former mayoral candidate and opponent of the Simpson Ave. shelter site, told the Utah State Legislature's Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

One after another, opponents of the Simpson Ave. site spoke to lawmakers on Monday and urged them to pressure Salt Lake City to remove the 150-bed facility from consideration as a shelter for homeless women and children.

"This would decrease my property value a great deal along with the homeowners in the area," said Susan Gallacher.

Emily Pennock argued that a shelter should be located outside the city. Robert Breeze criticized the city for how it's allowed the Rio Grande neighborhood to fall into such trouble, and then suggested they create a single site.

"This county needs a 15 to 20 acre single location site on the west side where these people can be protected from the drug dealers and others who prey upon them," Breeze told the committee, later adding: "The key is a secure perimeter fence to make sure that the drug dealers and other exploiters cannot get access to the homeless people."

Three lawmakers who represent west side neighborhoods in Salt Lake City and sit on the appropriations committee were stunned by that remark, exchanging eyebrow-raising glances.

"I have to admit it is very offensive," Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, told FOX 13 afterward when asked about it.

Rep. Hollins said her west side district has its share of shelters, halfway houses, rehab facilities and is also getting the new state prison.

"The west side is doing our civic duty," she said. "We understand what we are supposed to be doing, but other communities are going to have to start looking at how they can start embracing the homeless population."

On Monday, Lt Governor Spencer Cox and other lawmakers asked for money for affordable housing and homeless services. Despite protests and pressure, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and a majority of the City Council have refused to bend on the Sugar House shelter site. The city is pushing for four shelters scattered around the city, no more than 150-beds, each catering to a different segment of the homeless population. They've promised money will be funneled to addiction services and affordable housing to keep people from being homeless in the first place.

Despite the strong push back, lawmakers are expected to still fund the additional request for homeless services, though Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City, noted that more needs to be done to work with Sugar House residents. Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, urged constituents to not think of the Rio Grande neighborhood when they think of what the new shelters will become.

"The model is so different than what we see today at The Road Home," she said. "I keep trying to encourage people to take a look at Odyssey House, to take a look The Haven, First Step House, the YWCA."