Report: Salt Lake City's homelessness efforts making gains but food needs still unmet

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12 2013 7:45 p.m. MST

Christopher Baker relaxes after eating lunch at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. Baker has been getting little sleep since becoming homeless and sleeping outside in the freezing weather.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The 2013 U.S. Conference of Mayors Hunger and Homeless Survey spotlights a number of success stories in Utah's capital city.

For instance, Salt Lake City is very close to ending chronic homelessness among veterans.

Shelters did not have to turn away homeless families or individuals in the past year.

The city has been helped, too, by its low metropolitan unemployment rate — tied at 4 percent with Des Moines, Iowa, lowest among the 25 cities surveyed.

But the 31st annual report, which examines hunger and homelessness trends in major cities across the country, suggests the city has a significant to-do list to better serve the hungry and homeless in its midst.

While the community has made significant progress in housing people who are chronically homeless, the report suggests the efforts have stalled.

Only five new units of permanent supportive housing were established in the past year, and no transitional housing units were added.

Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, which shelters and provides case management to families and individuals, said regional planning efforts are needed to address the lack of progress in developing additional units of permanent supportive housing, as well as affordable housing.

“That’s a dangerous state for us to be in, something we’re going to have to rectify. That’s why some thoughtful regional planning on a regional level is going to be very important going forward,” Minkevitch said.

Communities along the Wasatch Front have conducted regional planning for issues such as transportation for many years. There is growing evidence that a similar approach is needed to address homelessness, he said.

The report says city officials expect numbers of homeless families to remain steady, numbers of homeless individuals to increase moderately and “resources to provide emergency shelter to decrease moderately.”

The report said overall homelessness in Salt Lake City was down 14.1 percent.

However, requests for emergency food increased 15 percent over the past year. Among people seeking emergency food assistance, 25 percent were families, 23 percent senior citizens, 17 percent employed and 5 percent homeless.

Gina Cornia, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, said the report provides “a great opportunity to talk about the impact of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and food stamp cut that went into effect on Nov. 1.”

The report says “decreasing a significant amount of funding from this efficient and effective program, those in the greatest need will have to further struggle each day to receive their next meal.”

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, there are about 93,000 food stamp cases in Utah. The average monthly benefit for a household of 2.5 people is $283.

The caseload has dropped from record highs, partly because the economy has improved but also because some recipients have not complied with job-seeking requirements and have been dropped from the rolls.

Whatever the reason, it means a significant number of Utahns are experiencing food insecurity, Cornia said.

She said more should be done among government agencies, nonprofit organizations and private businesses to address hunger to the same degree that community partners have come together to address the issue of chronic homelessness.

“There’s a really good role for the city to play in that,” Cornia said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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