Many residents of Poplar Grove were taken aback when they heard that a homeless village would be a great asset to our neighborhood.
The developers of a “master-planned neighborhood that provides affordable, permanent housing, access to social services, and a supportive community for [chronically homeless] men and women” have done a lot of work marketing their project.
They don’t have Poplar Grove’s interest in mind, however. Residents of our neighborhood should say no.
The organizers of The Other Side Academy have petitioned the city to allow them to develop almost 50 acres near the intersection of Indiana Avenue and Redwood Road.
The village would bring about 500 new residents into our neighborhood, all of whom would be immediately coming out of chronic homelessness. Put another way, the day before each of the potential resident moves in, he or she would have been homeless for a long time.
We can all recognize that such an endeavor will tax the resources and energy of those who provide services as well as the greater community of which it is a part.
The efforts of The Other Village organizers should be applauded. They bring earnestness and creativity to a problem that vexes our city.
However, the resources that would be required to make such an ambitious project succeed are not currently available in our neighborhood.
Moving ahead with this development would put our neighborhood at risk for a variety of reasons.
The Westside is like a hospital patient in critical but stable condition. We experience the highest rates of drug abuse in the city. We have relatively low home ownership rates. We know too well that our parks teeter on the brink of un-usability at times, with homeless individuals camping illegally at Poplar Grove Park and 9th South Park. Our residents tend to have less disposable income and less disposable time to put into volunteer work.
The river, which should be a jewel, is unhealthy and unsafe partly because of illegal long-term camping along its banks.
The Westside neighborhoods need time to develop, clean up and improve before being asked to host a homeless village.
Bringing 500 chronically homeless individuals would be more than our neighborhood could bear.
It strains credulity to argue that a massive influx of the chronically homeless wouldn’t bring additional strains to the area. Even assuming that the village itself is remarkably free of crime, drug use, and sanitation issues, the surrounding neighborhood would take on those that couldn’t make the cut.
Individuals who hope to get housing in the village, or who want to visit their friends there, or who get expelled for various reasons, would end up crowding the parks, river, and neighborhoods even more.
Many children walk to and from the four elementary schools located within a mile of the proposed homeless village. That is not a recipe for a safe and healthy community.
The chronically homeless need housing. The Other Side Village might very well be a solution. Not here, though. Not now. There are surely dozens of other 50-acre plots in Salt Lake, or Davis Counties that are better suited for a project this resource-intensive.
The Other Side Village might end up being an asset to another community that is ready for the challenge.
Rich Stowell lives in Poplar Grove with his wife and three wonderful children.