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Amid search for homeless resource center providers, critics say not the Road Home

SALT LAKE CITY — Shelter the Homeless, the nonprofit that will own the three new homeless resource centers in Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake, is now seeking bids on who will operate the shelters when they open next summer.

But already, critics know who they don't want.

"I would never want the Road Home to manage any of these shelters," said Scott Howell, a member of the Pioneer Park Coalition's board of directors in a meeting of the KSL and Deseret News editorial boards this week.

"They would be the last I would ever (choose)," Howell said, noting drugs have been a problem both inside and outside of the downtown shelter's walls, despite the Road Home's policy against drug use.

Howell and Tiffany Provost, chairwoman of the Pioneer Park Coalition's board, also said the Road Home hasn't been "accountable" for its impact on the surrounding community and hasn't expected its residents to have responsibilities.

"It's not a criticism, it's just the way that they ran their model," Howell said. "And we just think it's time to have a different model."

The future of the Road Home and what role it will play in the county's overhauled homeless service system has remained unclear ever since it was announced last year the downtown shelter would close by July 2019, when the homeless resource centers are slated to open.

But the Road Home, currently the state's largest homeless shelter provider, will play at least one part in the new homeless system. It operates the family shelter in Midvale, and Shelter the Homeless currently has no intention of changing that, said Preston Cochrane, the nonprofit's executive director on Monday.

It's unclear, however, whether the Road Home is considering bidding to operate one of the three new centers. Matt Minkevitch, the Road Home's executive director, declined to say whether the Road Home plans to submit a bid.

"I want to respect Shelter the Homeless' processes," he said in a text message to the Deseret News this week. "It would be bad form for our team to speculate on what agencies might be applying while there is a (request for bid process) underway."

However, Minkevitch did say "our team would respectfully disagree" with the sentiment that the Road Home wouldn't be fit to operate one of the new facilities. Minkevitch didn't comment further.

But one homeless provider, Bill Tibbitts, associate director of Crossroads Urban Center, came to the defense of the Road Home, pointing out that the nonprofit has the most experience and the largest trained staff to operate a shelter, in addition to housing programs and an established fundraising network.

"There's nobody who has more experience at running a shelter facility in Utah," Tibbitts said, also noting that people come from "all over the country" to study the Road Home's example.

"I think it would be a really big gamble to go with someone who has no experience running an emergency shelter or somebody who doesn't have the connections with local funders," Tibbitts said.

Cochrane, citing the ongoing competitive bid process and a desire to be fair to all applicants, declined to say which agencies have submitted letters of intent so far in the bid process, but he did say Shelter the Homeless won't bar any qualified applicants from the process.

"We encourage any applicants that meet the requirements to apply," he said. "Our selection committee will score them appropriately and make recommendations based on the (bid process)."

Bids are due April 20, and Shelter the Homeless is slated to decide winners no later than June 1.

Cochrane also said Shelter the Homeless may or may not chose one provider to run all three centers. He said it's possible the nonprofit may select multiple providers, depending on the bids.

Eligible providers include nonprofit or government organizations, according to the request for proposal that Shelter the Homeless issued earlier this month.

"There is no requirement for an organization to have previously served homeless populations, however, preference will be given to applicants who have served homeless or low-income populations," the proposal states.

One homeless provider, however, confirmed to the Deseret News this week that it is submitting a bid: Catholic Community Services, which currently manages the St. Vincent De Paul Dining Hall and the Weigand Homeless Resource Center across the street from the Road Home's shelter on Rio Grande Street.

"Catholic Community Services has operated homeless services for the last 50 years in Salt Lake City," said Danielle Stamos, the nonprofit's communications director. "We think we have much to offer and we could do a great job at operating one of these shelters."

Officials from another agency homeless provider, Volunteers of America, Utah, declined to say whether it plans to submit a bid. Sarah Cavalcanti, the nonprofit's communications director, said "we have no comment" and declined to confirm or deny any intent to submit a bid to Shelter the Homeless.

Officials from other providers, including Crossroads Urban Center and the YWCA, Utah said this week they didn't plan to submit bids.

Amberlie Phillips, chief development officer for the YWCA Utah, which runs a women's domestic violence shelter, said the nonprofit had submitted a letter of intent to Shelter the Homeless but decided against submitting a bid because its services are "so localized on domestic violence homelessness, we didn't feel like we'd be the best fit."

She did say, however, YWCA Utah would be looking to partner with the homeless centers in the future.

Tibbitts said his nonprofit wouldn't be submitting a bid, noting that while it runs an emergency food pantry and a thrift store, it isn't in the business of emergency shelter.

Meanwhile, on-the-ground design work to prepare the homeless resource centers for construction is ongoing.

The old Deseret Industries building at 131 E. 700 South has been razed to make way for the for the 200-bed women's shelter, and Shelter the Homeless is moving forward with conditional use permits for the 200-bed mixed-gender facility at 275 High Ave. and the 300-bed men's facility at 3380 S. 1000 West in South Salt Lake.

Barring any unexpected issues, Cochrane said the facilities are on track to break ground this spring.