Homelessness Down in Utah, But Still a Problem

May 2, 2012

This year, chronic homelessness is down 9%.

Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell says this can be directly attributed to low cost housing options that have been made available over the last few years as part of the state’s “Housing First” initiative:

“Those are not all the same kind of facilities but the real success has been the intermingling, not just of housing and lodging, but creating a spectrum of housing for transitional up to permanent and integrating that with social and human and health services.”

The data targets in particular those who are homeless 3 or 4 times within a 5-year period or for a full year.

Matt Minkevitch, Executive Director of The Road Home says, by far, the most important antidote to chronic homelessness is affordable housing. But supportive services keep those who are chronically homeless from losing that housing and winding up back in shelters.

“And the importance of addressing chronic homelessness is that it helps create capacity and helps render the sheltering system back to what it was originally intended to do, which was to help someone experiencing an emergency get back on their feet and get back into the housing market.”

Longtime advocate for the homeless Pamela Atkinson says many people who’ve been on the streets for 15 or more years are suddenly changing their minds and coming in for services:

“Part of what we’re trying to do is use peer pressure. Those who have come in off the streets, out of the camps into permanent supportive housing, they are telling their friends who are still out on the street, this works, come on in and join us.”

Atkinson says there are enough services to go around, noting an excess of capacity in emergency shelters for all age groups, although she says there is a waiting list for some permanent supportive housing.

Rob Weseman, Division Director of Homeless Services for Volunteers of America. says young adults from 18 to 22 years old are having the hardest time accessing services:

“Most of these kids could access the shelter, and some do. But many choose living on the street or finding some other option because they’re kind of uncomfortable in that situation.”

Sherry isn’t homeless but is familiar with the system and has friends who are. She says it’s not just young people who are afraid to go to shelters. She says many of her friends won’t stay in them for fear of physical harm or having their property stolen:

“There’s a lot of good resources out there but as far as people feeling like they have a place to go, and have a roof or shelter over their head, they feel they don’t have anywhere and in fact don’t if they’re going to be safe.”

While chronic homelessness is down, overall homelessness is up 13%. In the last two years, officials say overall homelessness was stable and even decreased because of money provided by the federal government for rapid re-housing, but that money will dry up in June.