“We all know that if it’s impactful, it’s inherently hard. What we have here is a bipartisan effort to try and tackle this issue,” House Speaker Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper) said of the ongoing effort to fix the homeless situation in downtown Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams appeared before both the Legislative Management and Executive Appropriations committees Tuesday to give an update on the process.
“I’m one who’s not critical of any particular provider, but we have the system that we’ve asked for and we’ve built. It’s a system that nobly alleviates suffering by providing beds and meals to people who are in need. We want a system where alleviating suffering is not the goal but a means to an end and the end is to help people to rely less on services, to gain a greater degree of independence and self-reliance as they exit services and move down the path of self-reliance and stability,” McAdams told lawmakers.
McAdams introduced a new Pay for Success program entitled “Homes, Not Jail.” The initiative will use $11.5 million in private funding to increase stable housing options for “persistently homeless” single adults, who are defined as people that have been utilizing a shelter for more than 90 days but less than 365 days. “I call this program the first 250-bed shelter that we will not build because it’s not a shelter — it’s a diversion.”
County funds will be placed in escrow, with the private donors being reimbursed when the initiatives goals are achieved. “In examining the data like we’ve never done before, we can see that roughly 30 percent of homeless individuals will spend on average three months each year in the Salt Lake County Jail. So I say — with no offense taken by Sheriff [Jim] Winder — that the Salt Lake County Jail is the worst and most expensive homeless provider in our system and we need to end that.” The program is expected to be launched in around late October or early November, depending on how negotiations go with the private backers.
Biskupski pointed to the three major issues that often lead to homelessness in Utah — a significant shortage of affordable housing, lack of access to healthcare, and a lack of funding to help people recover from addiction. “If we had better access to healthcare and addiction treatment options, then we could move people from experiencing homelessness to being back home with their families. That is a huge piece of this.”
According to Biskupski, members of the Salt Lake City Council were being informed of the potential shelter sites in a private briefing Tuesday. The top five sites will be made public October 10, with the final two being chosen November 1.
“I think at the end of the day, the ultimate outcome is that we’re seeing people — there’s obviously going to be some unsolvable problems, there’s no question in my mind — but that we see less of a gathering in a single location of folks that are homeless, that they have gotten the services that they need and are getting their lives changed. That’s the most important thing that we’re dealing with here. I hope that that’s the case and that the businesses around that area now, patrons feel comfortable coming there or even the business owner feels good about opening up his business without being threatened and that’s what we have today,” Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (Republican – Sandy) said. “The funding, we’re going to watch that closely. We want reports and we want something that we can actually see that we are moving the dial on this.”