210 Rio Grande: The epicenter for Utah's homeless

Published: Monday, Oct. 15 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

That population includes those have been homeless for more than a or those who have been three or four times in as many Gordon Walker, director the Housing and Community Development said.

According to Utah's Annualized Point-in-Time Count reports from 2005 2012, the homeless population makes up 0.5 to 0.6 percent of the population. Of that 0.6 percent, the chronically homeless made 9 percent of the population in 2005 and 3 percent in 2012.

"Of (the chronically homeless), we have now reduced the chronic population by 72 percent," Walker said. "We developed a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. ... We're now down to the point where we pretty well know who's still out there by name. ... We will end chronic homelessness within that 10-year period."

He said it was easiest to tackle the homeless population in segments and the decision was made to focus on the chronically homeless because housing them would both save money and free up space in shelters for those who only needed short-term housing. Someone who is chronically homeless costs an average of $20,000 a year in services. When placed in housing, the cost is cut to $8,000.

The dramatic decrease in chronically homeless numbers makes Utah unique in the nation. But it's by no means the end. There are still 542 Utahns who are chronically homeless and another 16,522 who were counted as homeless this year.

"That doesn't mean that we've solved all forms of homelessness," Walker said. "What we want to do is to give them an opportunity and so we will always be working at this. We're not thinking that we're going to be ending homelessness, even with all of our efforts. There's other factors far beyond our control."

Then there are the families.

There has been an increase in homeless families, but Walker said they, on average, stay in shelters for 26 days.

"Homeless families are as much a result of the economic decline rather than some other debilitating condition," Walker said. "A chronically homeless individual might be addicted to alcohol or drugs or have mental illness and, generally, will have a debilitating condition other than just economics."

He believes Utah's good economy actually contributes to homelessness in that it attracts job seekers who show up with little more than their cars. It's not all economics, either, Walker said, pointing out that even improvements in economic conditions have not led to a decrease in the overall homeless population.

For now the focus is on the chronically homeless. In a month that designation will include the Williams family, out of a home for more than a year. The family's struggles are matched by Walker's efforts to lend a hand.

"We're getting there. ... When we started we had hope that we could pull this together and it's coming and it will happen."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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