New stats show housing program has helped reduce chronic homelessness

Posted at 8:16 PM, Apr 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-28 22:16:31-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- New numbers were released Tuesday that show Utah is winning the war on chronic homelessness.

State leaders believe they've a found a solution – giving chronically homeless people a place to live, which helps them and saves taxpayers’ money.

“This year we've had a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness and our latest numbers are that we're down 91 percent from where we started,” said Gordon Walker, Director of Housing and Community Development for the state.

Numbers released by the state Tuesday show in 2005 there were nearly 2,000 chronically homeless people in Utah.  That number has dropped to just 178, based on the latest count.

State leaders say they have the money and resources to eliminate the problem altogether and also save taxpayers’ money, since chronically homeless people require more physical and mental health aid than other homeless.

“Just as if we were getting out of debt we've taken the most expensive core group who needs the greatest amount of services and house them and that freezes up additional funds so we can help others,” Walker said.

Numbers show the system is working. Housing sites like Grace Mary Manor and Bud Bailey Apartments in Salt Lake County are housing hundreds who otherwise would be living on the street.

“We have to understand that this is just a small segment of overall homelessness that we're dealing with but we are seeing some good strong success,” Walker said.

What makes someone chronically homeless?

The state says a person has to be homeless for longer than one year or homeless four times in three years and also have a disabling condition ranging from mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction.

“All I had was my clothes that's all and so I went and lived in the park for a while lived in the park in the day and crawled in the bushes at night,” said Roger Smith a previously homeless vet.

The homes are not free. Residents like Smith have to sign a lease and pay 30 percent of their income no matter how meager it may be. The state says to take care of a chronically homeless person it costs $20,000 per person per year. Whereas giving them a home and taking them off the streets that cost drops to $12,000.