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Homeless man holds a sign.
Two states — Connecticut and Virginia — have now been recognized for ending chronic homelessness among military veterans, a large accomplishment mirrored by several municipalities across the country, including Salt Lake City. A campaign to end homelessness begun in 2010 by the Obama administration continues to yield success, but it’s important that the efforts continue and even accelerate.
In Utah, that would mean passage of HB436, the Housing and Homeless Reform Initiative, which would authorize a total of $27 million to be spent on shelters and to support ongoing housing initiatives. The bill has been passed onto the floor the House where we hope it is sent on to the Senate with a favorable vote.
There has been a great deal of investment by local, state and federal governments to reduce the number of homeless people, and it is gratifying to see positive results. Between 2007 and 2015, overall homelessness fell by 11 percent, while chronic homelessness was reduced by 31 percent and by 35 percent among military veterans. Those are large percentages, particularly when you consider they have been derived during a time when housing costs have risen in many metropolitan areas, and while recession and a spike in unemployment impacted the entire country.
It is a testament to the influence of compassion and good will when a commitment is made to help those displaced by economic or personal circumstances. Utah has been ahead of the curve in attacking the problem in a positive way, but the annual statistics on homelessness suggest that we may have reached something of a plateau. That’s why new state appropriations are necessary, especially to fund a new approach to dealing with the homeless population in an ongoing fashion, with aid customized to the circumstances of the families or individuals. The only way to cure homelessness is to put people in homes, and that’s why the housing initiatives under consideration are so important.
Likewise, the Obama administration’s request for $11 billion in new money to combat homelessness among families is also an important proposal. In some urban areas, housing costs have escalated to the point that even working people making well beyond minimum wage are unable to afford a place to live.
The housing initiatives here and in other states have been successful while not creating what some fear might become a welfare culture. The beneficiaries receive help of various sorts, but the end result has been in the majority of cases to allow people to stabilize their circumstances and move on largely independent of public assistance.
Assisting people who have fallen into a place of poverty and desperation is a well-placed public priority that needs to continue with a focus on addressing both the causes and effects of homelessness.