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About Utah: Utah's attack on homelessness a model for the nation

Published: Saturday, Feb. 23 2013 8:33 p.m. MST

Lisa Corne, center, speaks with case worker Kendall Rathunde at the Salt Lake City Road Home, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012. The Corne family moved out from the Midvale Road Home last week.

Ben Brewer, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — From the day he plunged head-first off the corporate ladder to take a $5-an-hour job as a cook in the soup kitchen, there has been no question about Matt Minkevitch's passionate desire to serve the homeless.

But it took dispassionate statistics to convince him of the best way to serve.

And it's a combination of the two that has homeless advocates across the nation looking with envy at what's happening in Utah.

Utah's homes for the homeless initiative, now in its ninth year, has attracted far-reaching and favorable attention because of its dramatic results. The concept of rehabilitating the hardest core of the homeless community by providing them with permanent homes of their own has resulted in far more stability and success than critics predicted.

Folks no one thought would ever drift off the streets for more than a night or two, people with chronic mental and physical health problems and intense drug and alcohol addictions, are sleeping in their own beds every night — and saving the community in the process by alleviating jail time, reducing demand on emergency rooms and other health care services and, in some cases, renting apartments from landlords that otherwise might remain vacant.

At the forefront of this campaign is the Road Home shelter in downtown Salt Lake City, where Minkevitch has been executive director since 2000. He began caring for the poor full-time 13 years before that when, at the age of 27, he left a management position at a large Salt Lake City hotel to hire on as a chef at the Catholic Community Service's St. Vincent de Paul Shelter. (Cooking jobs is how he paid his way through college at the University of Utah, where he graduated with a degree in literature.)

It meant a substantial cut in pay and starting over for Minkevitch, who shrugs and says of that career-changing decision, "We all know it ain't about money." He had just turned 40 when he left St. Vincent's for the position at the Road Home, known at the time as the Traveler's Aid Society.

In 2003, Minkevitch was part of a nine-member Homeless Coordinating Committee sent by Utah Lt. Gov. Olene Walker to Chicago to attend the HUD Policy Academy, where the Bush administration's Interagency Council on Homelessness revealed detailed statistics showing that roughly 10 percent of those who use shelters can be considered "chronic" and account for more than 50 percent of their use.

Thereafter, focusing on the needs of that 10 percent, and on strategies to secure permanent housing and services for them, became the mandate in Utah — with impressive success. In 2011, Minkevitch traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept the award for the Road Home as the Nonprofit of the Year by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

In a recent conversation in his Road Home office, the Deseret News talked to Matt Minkevitch about Utah's approach to homelessness.

DN: What makes the Road Home model work so well that out of thousands of nonprofits addressing the homeless problem around the country, it was singled out as the very best?

MM: There are so many ingredients, and it's all of them working together — a very active board, an incredible staff, volunteers, the community support, all of it. Invariably, anyone from Utah who's in this line of work understands how remarkable the level of collaboration is in this state from agency to agency, from all the providers, from every level of government. That's something that sets Utah apart. The kind of collaboration that leads to remarkable results and that others recognize.

DN: So there isn't just one magic ingredient?

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