OGDEN — Officials at Lantern House, which scrambled last year to pinpoint areas to accommodate the homeless after it faced a reduction in space, can breathe a little easier now.
Last week, the nonprofit agency and Ogden officials resolved some of the issues that had kept parts of the shelter off-limits to overnight stays by the homeless. That bolsters the capacity of Lantern House from 274 to at least around 330, good news for those in need, says Lauren Navidomskis, executive director of the agency.
“We have an obligation to mankind to be respectful and shelter people,” she said.
Still, not every issue has been resolved. Lantern House and city representatives are still sorting out what areas to allow for shelter stays once warmer weather comes, which could bear on the agency’s ability to serve the homeless going forward. Use of a cafeteria area as a nighttime sleeping area, in particular, faces scrutiny by officials for compliance with city building and fire codes.
“I don’t know exactly which way that’s going to go,” said Mark Johnson, chief administrative officer for Ogden.
As such, Navidomskis worries about Lantern House’s ability to keep pace with demand when spring and warmer weather come around. The agency started using the cafeteria area last year when informed that other areas were off-limits and it’s been used through the winter. The eating room has a capacity of 53.
“I’m a little concerned we might need that through the whole year,” she said. Demand for space, she noted, has held steady the past two summers, and hasn’t tapered as the cold has eased.
Johnson, though, isn’t expecting any overly restrictive decrees from the city. “I don’t think they’ve turned people away,” he said, and he doesn’t suspect Lantern House will be forced to do so going forward.
The issues that scaled back the areas Lantern House could use came to light last spring, surprising agency officials. Celebrations in Ogden last May to mark the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad back in 1869 drew tens of thousands of visitors and also resulted in a sharp uptick in demand at Lantern House. City inspectors, in response, visited the facility, determining that areas used as sleeping areas weren’t cleared for such use.
“Are you kidding me? Are you absolutely kidding me?” said Navidomskis, recalling her surprise at the time, shortly after she had taken over as Lantern House executive director.
Blueprints for the Lantern House facility, completed in 2015, had labeled some rooms as activity areas, but not specifically for sleeping. Thus, the architects who designed the building had to be called in to update the paperwork, an issue that wasn’t resolved until last week, requiring plenty of back-and-forth with city officials. Navidomskis said beds and other furniture need to be moved into the eight impacted rooms, a task she’s pushing to get done as soon as possible so the homeless can use them.
“We can’t let people freeze on the street,” she said.
Many at the shelter are enrolled in its residential program, meant to help them get jobs and permanent housing. Others come in each night, only seeking a place to sleep. The two groups are kept separate.