Drug use and residents' safety are 'serious problem' at homeless shelters, audit says

Homeless shelter (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) - Drug use and safety for residents are still a serious problem for many residents at two local homeless shelters and a housing complex operated by The Road Home, a local nonprofit organization, according to a report from the state auditors office.

During interviews with several dozen homeless individuals who have stayed in the downtown, Midvale and Palmer Court facilities, the residents complained to state auditors about drug use within the shelters, poor sanitary conditions (including bedbugs and lice) and theft of personal belongings.

At the downtown shelter, security personnel have witnessed this serious drug problem. According to the report, the security staff have documented finding residents dealing drugs, smoking Spice and using heroin in or around the shelter. During a two and a half week period, security personnel documented over 100 cases of drug related activity within the downtown shelter.

After interviewing 21 homeless individuals who live on the streets of Salt Lake City, the state auditors office found that nearly a third of the individuals prefer to spend their nights on the streets, rather than at the shelter. Avoiding drug use, stealing and poor health conditions were the reasons why these individuals didn't want to stay at the downtown shelter.

Palmer Court facility staff and residents told the state auditors that they know residents are using drugs, even though the facility has a zero-tolerance police towards drug use.

At the Midvale shelter, screening procedures are taught to the staff, but the auditors never actually saw the staffers put the procedures into practice.

These problems are largely due to a relaxed enforcement when it comes to the rules and procedures that are designed to prevent drug use and to provide a secure environment in those facilities.

State auditors observed that Road Home staffers do not enforce their house rules; payment at Palmer Courts seems to be optional, even though it is not; the property manager's response unpaid rent is not authorized by management or board of The Road Home; and senior staff work flexible hours and aren't required to submit time sheets.

The Road Home runs the three facilities but they are actually owned by a separate nonprofit organization called Shelter the Homeless. The state is holding both parties are responsible for the poor conditions in their facilities.

The state is calling on The Road Homes' board of trustee's to provide better policies and oversight, including how to apply "low barrier to entry" approach to shelter care.

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