Program helps decrease chronic homelessness in Utah

Posted at 8:32 PM, Apr 20, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-20 23:59:13-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The homeless population in Utah is shrinking and those reducing numbers are making national headlines.

For the past decade the state has simply been giving chronically homeless, a home. Statistics show it is dramatically cutting the number of those living on the streets.

"No one has ever done it. On any social program no one has ever ended anything," said Gordon Walker, Utah Director of Division of Housing and Community Development.

The Housing the Homeless program has been a 10-year effort, which is minimizing the number of chronically homeless in the state.

"It's a small segment of our society that needs help and we've found if we help them we can do well economically but we're also saving lives and that's what's important about this," Walker said.

When the program started in 2005 Utah had nearly 2,000 chronically homeless. By 2013 that number dropped to 72 percent, in return saving the state millions of dollars over the past decade.

"Not only are we seeing it statistically, but more importantly for me personally is I'm seeing individuals’ lives be helped, that they are benefited, that their lives are extended and they're given a chance," Walker said.

Chronic homelessness is defined as a person who has lived on the streets for more than a year and has a rehabilitating condition ranging from mental illnesses to alcoholism.

"It's very difficult if a person is homeless to work on other issues. If I didn't have a home I would be spending all my work time trying to find a home -- this way they can at least becoming back into society," Walker said.

But the homes aren't free. Tenants pay 30 percent of their income, no matter how meager, to rent. In the past 10 years the program has topped an 80 percent success rate.

"It's much more cost effective to house people here than to have them on the streets using jails and emergency rooms and detox and all those other facilities," said Kerry Bate, Director Salt Lake County Housing Authority.

The state says they are close to a functional zero of chronic homelessness, which means they have the resources and funds to take care of the problem. Next week the state will be releasing new numbers and they say they're excited about the progress they've made.