Advocates for Utah’s homeless announce potential funding of $27 million over three years

Posted at 9:35 PM, Mar 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-11 23:36:06-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Tackling the issue of homelessness in Utah is complex, layered with the many reasons why people end up on the streets.

Some have mental health issues. Some are dealing with substance abuse. Some are veterans battling PTSD, while others have suffered a financial calamity due to medical bills or a loss of employment.

Helping the homeless is, in many ways, about finding out what kind of help each individual really needs.

"A homeless person is not a homeless person, they are individuals, and you have to look, not only at what they've gone through but their potential,” said Pamela Atkinson, a community advocate working with the legislature on homelessness issues.

At a press conference on Friday, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams announced the state legislature approved $9.25 million this year and may approve up to $27 million total over three years to address the issue in a new way. The first battleground is Salt Lake City itself.

"Salt Lake County comprises about 40 percent of our statewide population, but over 70 percent of our state's homeless are here in Salt Lake County," McAdams said.

The predominant place for homeless services is in downtown Salt Lake City. A large emergency shelter, intended to get people out of the cold weather overnight but not to house them during the day, is the centerpiece.

"My priority is the families with young children who are in that emergency shelter today, we want to get them out," McAdams said.

Families will soon have a place to go year-round. A 304-bed shelter in Midvale will use part of the money from the state for minor upgrades, like landscaping, air conditioning and better sidewalks. Those upgrades will allow the shelter to function year-round. The shelter has activity rooms, kitchen areas and bunk beds arranged in family units.

"Here, you're part of the cleaning crew… Here you have people come and help you with your homework… Here, the staff knows where the kids are and what they need to do," said JoAnn Seghini, Mayor of Midvale, regarding the facility.

The shelter in Midvale could become a model for other shelters that might be built in the future, in part because of what it offers outside of shelter.

"Workforce services, psychological services, medical services,” Seghini said.

The big question is: Where would the new facilities be built?

"The city will be reconvening a site evaluation committee,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.

No sites have been picked, and leaders involved in the effort expect there will be some push-back once locations are announced, but they hope to implore communities to embrace the challenge.

"We need to make this not only a collective impact, but a collective burden," said State Senator Todd Weiler, a Republican who represents Woods Cross.