Group seeks overnight shelter for homeless through winter

Some local officials and concerned citizens are trying to establish an overnight emergency shelter for the homeless during winter months.

They met for the first time Tuesday, Nov. 27, to discuss options and tour the former Moab senior citizens center, one of the possible sites. The Grand County Council recently gave the go-ahead to consider using the county-owned building’s kitchen for the purpose.

“We are not considering this as a long-term solution,” Moab City Council member Kirstin Peterson said. “It is purely to provide emergency overnight housing.”

However, there might be a financial roadblock to using the former senior center. County facilities supervisor Marvin Day said if people were housed in just one room overnight, the entire building must be equipped with a sprinkler system to meet code requirements.

The former center currently has no sprinklers. Day estimated it would cost $30,000 to $40,000 to meet requirements.

Grand County Council member Audrey Graham said she talked with Grand County building official Jeff Whitney after the meeting and there appears no way around the sprinkler requirement. The cost would be prohibitive, members of the new shelter group indicated.

Another location option, Graham said, is the Melich House near the county courthouse. Since it’s a private residence, it doesn’t carry the same code requirements as a building, she noted.

Overnight guests could stay in the basement because the upstairs portion of the house is already in use by another group, Graham said. It would require digging an entrance and installing a doorway to the basement, although no cost estimate is available.

Other options include finding a house the city and county could rent jointly for three months during the winter or finding a house that a private owner would offer for use during the period, Graham said.

The group, a subcommittee of the Grand Homeless Coordinating Committee, currently has no money for the project. Fundraising would be needed to pay for any renovations or other costs in opening a shelter.

Subcommittee member Sara Melnicoff suggested financing the facility can be done.

“People in this town care,” she said. “In four days of [Salvation Army] bell-ringing, we’ve raised $1,200.”

Subcommittee members also discussed topics such as whether overnight guests who had been drinking during the day would be allowed into the facility. Other shelters use monitoring devices to check blood-alcohol level and reject those with any alcohol in their system, said a subcommittee member who worked in a homeless shelter in another state.

No decision was made about the alcohol issue.

Also undetermined is the number of homeless people in the Moab area. Someone asked if the homeless would even stay in a shelter if one were available.

“We won’t know until we have a place for them,” Melnicoff said.

Most members shied away from calling the potential facility a “shelter.” They emphasized it would only be a temporary place to get out of the cold weather for the night.

Most agreed that two volunteers would be needed to staff the facility each night. At least one of the volunteers would have to be awake at all times, subcommittee members said.

The group will meet again Dec. 13 at noon at the former senior center to continue discussions.

ByBy Steve Kadel

staff writer