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In our opinion: Helping the homeless

Published: Thursday, Sept. 3 2015 7:51 p.m. MDT

The annual homeless The annual homeless "Point in Time Count" recently showed a year-to-year decrease in overall homelessness of about 7 percent. Among those considered chronically homeless, the population is down 9 percent in the last year, but is down a remarkable 74 percent since 2005. (Shutterstock)

Recent reports indicate significant progress is being made in addressing the problem of chronic homelessness along the Wasatch Front. Agencies that track the homeless population have new evidence it is shrinking, and there are more resources coming on line to help push that trend.

However, problems persist. There are areas visible throughout the urban landscape where the displaced and disenfranchised gather, and while their numbers may be down, it is not reasonable to suggest the problem is somehow close to eradication.

But again, there are credible indicators that programs targeting those for whom homelessness has become a chronic condition appear to be working, and that is a hopeful sign. The annual homeless "Point in Time Count" recently showed a year-to-year decrease in overall homelessness of about 7 percent. Among those considered chronically homeless, the population is down 9 percent in the last year, but is down a remarkable 74 percent since 2005.

Credit goes in large part to more strategic efforts to attack the problem with a holistic approach that affords individuals an opportunity to move into transitional housing and work toward permanent placement. That frequently involves treatment for various conditions that can contribute to homelessness, including addictions and mental illness.

Those who work with the most destitute of that population say it is possible, with a continuation of such efforts, that chronic homelessness eventually could be eliminated. That would be a tremendous social achievement.

It is good to see that the public commitment to that goal is not waning, despite fiscal pressures on the agencies on the front lines. This month, the mayors of Salt Lake County's various municipalities agreed to support a joint funding stream that would generate roughly $375,000 in additional annual money to support homeless programs. The mayors were persuaded by the success of current programs, and wisely decided that now is the time to double-down on those efforts to accelerate the pattern of success.

The federal government also has stepped up with more efforts to deal with the problem of homelessness among military veterans -- historically a large percentage of the overall population. Recent statistics suggest large reductions in those numbers, as well.

All together, when it comes to the commitment of government toward addressing this problem in a meaningful way, the trends are going in the right direction. That's despite the unfortunate fallout of the federal budget sequestration that has reduced funding to social agencies that provide services to the poor.

The overall health of any community is most accurately judged not by the opulent surroundings of its well-off members, but by the conditions among its least affluent population. Improving their situation is beneficial to the entire community.

The problem of homelessness is not yet solved, but there are signs it is in retreat. Now is the time to mount a surge that could push it even closer to the edge of defeat.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company