SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's efforts to house the homeless is among the most successful in the country — and an example the federal government plans to embrace in hopes of ending veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015. By 2020, government officials intend to help the children, youths and families who are homeless find stable, permanent living situations, according to America's top housing official.
Particularly shameful is the fact that so many American veterans are homeless, said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan on a visit to Utah Wednesday. About 1 in 6 of those who stay in homeless shelters nationally "have worn this country's uniform," he said.
Ending homelessness is "not just a noble fight, but a problem we can solve," said Donovan during a visit to Palmer Court, a low-income housing complex for people who before were chronically homeless located at 999 S. Main in downtown Salt Lake. He toured the 201-unit property with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, state housing officials and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, among others.
Utah has reduced its chronic homelessness by 69 percent since it implemented a statewide plan more than five years ago. Key to that 10-year plan was creating more than 500 new housing units in the past four years specifically to provide stable housing to that population. The housing is subsidized and comes with services such as case management. Palmer Court also has an onsite Head Start program.
Nationally, "Rapid Rehousing" and similar programs that get people into housing of their own and then help them find a job and stability have reduced chronic homelessness by one-third. It's much less expensive at about $9,000 than the money spent on public services when the homeless live in shelters or on the streets. That costs anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 each, experts say.
Just last year, Utah reduced chronic homelessness by 29 percent, which is particularly significant considering the downturn in the economy.
Investing in a population that needs help so desperately is partly about doing what's right, a form of "stewardship," Herbert said. But it's also the choice that makes the most sense economically.
Donovan acknowledged not only a fiscal deficit in America, but what he called " a trust deficit." Programs like these efforts to help the homeless, he said, are examples of effective government and money well spent.
"I feel this is a great example that gets us beyond the partisan divide," said Donovan. And it plays into what people really want, he added: "a smart government."
Dealing with the homeless is an issue of such importance, Donovan said, that the federal government has not only protected funds in spite of serious budget deficits, but has expanded some of the programs. Despite "enormous pressure on the budget," HUD was provided funding for 7,000 new vouchers to help veterans into housing, for example.
Herbert said he wished that he could take credit for the Beehive State's incredible success in housing people who have been homeless for a long time. And he quipped that "when I run for re-election in 2012, I probably will (take credit)." But he noted that the collaboration of many different people of different backgrounds and faiths, as well as the creation of programs that provide housing, help with medical issues and other support services have made all the difference to the state's success.