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article imageUtah's answer to chronic homelessness? Give them a place to live

By Karen Graham     May 4, 2015 in Lifestyle
Salt Lake City - In what many people are saying was a herculean task, the state of Utah has been able to darned near wipe out chronic homelessness in the state, and it has only taken 10 years. How was this possible?
In 2005, then-Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah initiated the Beehive State’s “Housing First” program, to combat chronic homelessness, meaning those people who have been on the streets for a year or more.
When the plan began, Utah had 1,932 chronically homeless adults. While their numbers only made up about 14 percent of the state's total homeless population, they accounted for the majority of state agencies' resources. State agency officials figured out it costs the state more in running shelters and soup kitchens to feed and bed the chronically homeless (at $19, 200 an individual), than it would cost to find permanent housing and good case management (at only $7,800 a person).
The somewhat controversial initiative seems to have reaped some good results, with state officials saying there are now only 178 chronically homeless today, a 91 percent drop. Gordon Walker, the director of a state community, and housing division said, "We know them by name, who they are, and what their needs are."
Many people think the initiative over-simplifies the issue of chronic homelessness, ignoring social, economic, and mental health problems that are so prevalent with many chronically homeless. But Utah and many other states are now seeing that addressing the most basic needs first makes it easier to deal with the other problems often associated with chronic homelessness.
"We call it housing first, employment second," said Lloyd Pendleton, director of Utah's Homeless Task Force. Even Pendleton was not a believer in the project working, at first. "I said, 'You guys must be smoking something. This is totally unrealistic,'" Pendleton said. He now finds the results indisputable.
Chronic homelessness can be defined as being on the streets for more than a year or three times in four years. While this group makes up only a small portion of the homeless, the numbers remain steady during the same period of time. Utah has made 2,202 homes and apartments available to the homeless since 2005.
Not only has the initiative gotten people off the streets, but it has freed up badly needed funds and space at homeless shelters to help those people who are temporarily homeless. Just so people know, the project is not a freebie by any means. Recipients of housing help pay rent of 30 percent of their income or $50, whichever is the greater amount.
It's more humane, and it's cheaper," Pendleton said. "I call them 'homeless citizens.' They're part of our citizenry. They're not them and us. It's 'we.'"
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