SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City will make additional shelter beds available for people experiencing homelessness after five died in recent days amid sub-freezing temperatures that are expected to plunge further throughout the United States this weekend.
“Every Salt Lake City resident deserves a safe place to sleep at night. Together, these moves will allow our partner service providers the opportunity to add 95 beds as soon as they are able,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, a Democrat, said.
A point-in-time count from earlier this year recorded 3,356 people experiencing homelessness on a single night in Utah — a majority in the Salt Lake City metro area. State and local officials have anticipated a surge in demand for shelter beds as snow has fallen and temperatures have dropped throughout the region.
A Tuesday emergency order signed by Mendenhall will make 50 additional beds available in Salt Lake City shelters — an amount that will be supplemented by additional beds in Millcreek and South Salt Lake City. The additions will bring the total capacity to roughly 1,100 beds.
Shelters are subject to capacity limits and at times face constraints due to staffing and funding. Mendenhall said state dollars would underwrite the funds required to increase capacity.
Utah was once a model in dealing with chronic homelessness, but the number of individuals experiencing it has risen in recent years as the population has grown and costs of living have increased.
Officials in the Utah capital have criticized places such as Jackson, Wyoming, for busing individuals experiencing homelessness to their city. They have also criticized suburbs on their outskirts for not contributing to efforts to shelter people in need.