05 January 2021

SLC’s First Homeless Shelter was Established in 1883

SLC transient bunkhouse building behind City Hall.
Detail of Panoramic view Illustration 1887, From UDSH.

SLC Mayor William Jennings proposed to the SLC Council in Dec 1883 that a dedicated shelter for transient people would be better than the practice of allowing the “tramps” to stay overnight in the City Jail.

Jennings explained that he often received visitors to his home (the Devereaux House) asking for overnight lodging and when a person was told that they would be locked in the City Jail with the prisoners they often refused preferring to walk the streets all night. He reasoned that if a suitable place were provided it would reduce “after dark crimes” within SLC.

Arrangements were made to clear a small storage building behind the City Hall building (relocated to Capitol Hill in 1961) and east of the City Jail. This area is now occupied by the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building at the corner of 100 S and State St.

Bunks were provided to house about a dozen people. The City Marshall had charge over the new City Bunkhouse as well as the City Jail.

As with other cities in the US which had established municipal lodgings, SLC required lodgers to work for a night’s stay and a breakfast meal, usually by providing labor on the streets or in gravel pits.

SLC provided lodging off and on for about the next 15 years. Newspaper reports are spotty, but it seems that sometimes the building was used for transient lodging, sometimes it was used as overflow for jail inmates, and sometimes it was used for storage.

An 1891 article reports that the bunkhouse was so dirty and rundown it was “unfit to lodge any human being and is a disgrace to the city.” By 1899 it was described as the “dilapidated old city bunkhouse” and it seems that SLC stopped providing lodging services to transient people soon thereafter.

(Tramp = a long-term homeless person who travels from place to place, especially after 1877).

Sources: SL Herald 1883-12-05, 1886-09-16, 1891-11-22; SL Trib 1893-12-13

1884 SLC Sanborn Map

Detail, 1884 SLC Sanborn Map

 Inside the municipal Lodging House in NYC. From Broke, by Edwin A. Brown, 1913.
The SLC shelter had bunks such as these, but in a much smaller building.

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