Construction crews have been busy in the Central City neighborhood just east of downtown Salt Lake. A flurry of mid-rise residential projects are either under construction or will start construction later this year. While most of these projects are market-rate units, construction is currently underway on a new campus for the First Step House, a nonprofit organization that provides treatment for men with substance use disorders.
The project at 440 South 500 East will serve as a recovery campus and will provide 50 beds consisting of 32 treatment beds and 18 transitional housing beds. The transitional rooms will have individual bathrooms and a shared kitchen. The recovery campus will focus on the veteran population.
The project is located within the Transit Station Area zoning district (TSA), a zoning district that requires projects to meet certain criteria when in close proximity to transit stations. The recovery campus is just over a block from the Trolley Square TRAX station.
The proximity to transit was key in the selection of the 500 East site. Many of the veterans that will use the recovery campus don’t drive and will regularly travel between the campus and the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Foothill Drive. Both locations are along the University TRAX line making travel easier for patients.
The new recovery campus replaces a one-story building that was previously vacant. The original building will be re-purposed from a suburban style office building into a more urban development that will engage better at the street level. A two story expansion will be added to the front of the building that will be built up to the sidewalk. The two-story addition will include office and clinical admission space.
The adjacent surface parking lot just north of the building will include a basketball court for clients and staff and will be developed as the project’s second phase.
According to Shawn McMillen, the Executive Director of First Step House, the second phase would be a multi-services building that could be as tall as five stories. The size of scope of the second building is contingent on Healthy Utah being approved by the state legislature, which would expand medicaid coverage and healthcare funding for nonprofits like First Step House.
The new campus is directly across the street from the Smith’s Food and Marketplace, whose parking lot is a popular gathering place for panhandlers. Staff will be onsite 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including client advocates that are responsible to ensure the safety and security for clients at the campus.
“We want to be good neighbors,” said McMillen. “The campus should enhance public safety in the neighborhood.”
Residents in the transitional housing will be required to have or be seeking employment. When both phases are completed, First Step will add onsite vocational training and social enterprise opportunities that will provide clients job experience through running a bakery or coffee shop onsite. The social enterprise program will be similar to what is planned for the Volunteers of America Youth Center proposed in the Granary District.
Just as there is an increasing shortage of affordable housing in Salt Lake, there is a shortage of affordable treatment options for substance use disorders.
According to Sarah Bauman, the Development Director for First Step House, only 20 percent of Salt Lake County residents that struggle with substance abuse are receiving treatment.
“Individuals with substance use disorder and mental health conditions have a higher incidence of involvement in the criminal justice system,” said McMillen.