How will development in Provo impact the homeless?

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A sign at the Slate Canyon trailhead prohibits garbage dumping. Uncleanliness and other factors have made the canyon a focal point for clean-up and development this summer. (Karina Andrew)

Utah County’s population is increasing, and its cities are bracing for continued development. As Provo officials plan for growth, what will happen to the city’s homeless population?

Provo is home to at least 100 unsheltered people, according to Karen McCandless, executive director of nonprofit Community Action Services. As Provo’s population grows over the next three decades, McCandless said its homeless population will likely increase as well, and different development objectives could have an impact on them.

For example, Provo residents and developers alike consider nature and open space a top priority for the city. As plans for future development get underway, City Council member Shannon Ellsworth has created an initiative to enhance Slate Canyon. 

Ellsworth told The Daily Universe that Slate Canyon has received the least attention — and the least funding — of Provo’s three major canyons. Because of the neglect, Slate Canyon has been a site for mass garbage dumping including drug paraphernalia, and isn’t safe for women or children.

Slate Canyon has also played host to some Provo residents experiencing homelessness, who have used the canyon as a long-term camping site.

Development in Slate Canyon kicked off April 24 with a clean-up project organized by Conserve Utah Valley. More community projects will occur every fourth Saturday of the month for the rest of the summer. 

Ellsworth said in an email that projects will include “removing graffiti, trash, and noxious weeds, appropriating funds to develop the multi-phase park that is planned for the mouth of the canyon, and acquiring properties that will allow us to expand the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.” Ellsworth said she isn’t sure whether development in the canyon will displace anyone experiencing homelessness.

It is illegal to camp on city property that isn’t designated as a campground, Ellsworth said, but the city of Provo has no official resources for people experiencing homelessness; rather, Provo city officials direct those in need to county or nonprofit resources. 

While there aren’t any homeless shelters in Utah County, McCandless said Community Action Services contracts with motels in Provo to provide short-term emergency shelter. There is also long-term housing, or permanent supportive housing, for people who are chronically homeless or have been homeless for more than a month.

However, there is a gap, McCandless said, between emergency and long-term housing for the homeless. People experiencing homelessness in Provo for between eight and 30 days often have nowhere to go.

Another development initiative that could have a big impact on people experiencing homelessness is increasing transit options.

“Transportation is crucial for those experiencing homelessness,” McCandless said, adding that continuing to increase public transit availability, accessibility and connectivity will greatly benefit Provo’s homeless population.

The nonprofit director also identified an increase in housing variety as a potential boon to those struggling to afford shelter. By including less expensive studio and one-bedroom apartments in residential development, developers could help more Provo residents avoid the devastating impact of Utah’s housing crisis.

“There are a variety of different ways that development can be incentivized to provide housing that is affordable, and I would love to see that as we grow in the community,” McCandless said.

She added she’s hopeful that continued growth will result in heightened awareness of the issues that cause homelessness and an increase in resources for Provo residents with nowhere to go.

“I’m seeing an increase in awareness, and I’m seeing the development of champions in the community for these housing issues,” she said. “And I think that will continue to grow as our county grows.”

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