In our opinion: It’s time to look at the Road Home homeless shelter’s culture

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

People congregate near the Road Home and the St. Vincent de Paul dining hall on Rio Grande Street in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Shocking conditions in the homeless district in Salt Lake City demand compassion.

Compassion, however, is not a laissez faire approach toward drug use and violence. Compassion demands holding people accountable for flouting the law while providing genuine opportunities for individuals to get clean and live up to the demands of the citizenry. Where addiction and mental health are concerned, there need to be adequate services with similar aims.

The Road Home homeless shelter in Salt Lake City should be designed to reach these goals and not impede them.

As Deseret News reporter Katie McKellar reported Sunday, in the midst of the site selection process for a new homeless shelter, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams went undercover to gain firsthand experience on the current homeless situation on the streets of Rio Grande.

He spent a night in the Road Home shelter and a night on the street. What he witnessed was a dangerous milieu of drugs, violence, addiction, homelessness and severe mental health struggles.

He said he did not feel safe at the Road Home shelter.

This is a concern, as increasingly the homeless are choosing to camp out rather than enter the shelter. The reasons for this are complex, and McAdams was careful not to blame the circumstances and suffering of the homeless on the Road Home shelter, noting that they are “trying really hard under impossible circumstances to do what they think is right.”

Indeed, McAdams, who was reluctant to disclose his personal investigation into life on the streets in Rio Grande for fear it would be taken as a publicity stunt, never intended to spark a conversation about the Road Home shelter.

But it’s irresponsible for local leaders not to ask difficult questions about how the Road Home shelter operates and whether it needs to improve.

We pointed out in April that community members were concerned about…

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