Although cold weather and demand for services for the homeless seem as though they should go hand-in-hand, a survey of services in Salt Lake County indicates that numbers didn't change much from the bitter cold of February to the near-record-breaking warmth of April.
More than 200 organizations that provide services to Utah's homeless population participated in a point-in-time survey April 29, according to Steve Erickson, VISTA homeless project supervisor. The results of the survey, released just last week, could be helpful to establish community funding formulas for dispersal of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act monies. Utah's share of that federal grant is $1.14 million."We don't know the actual number of people who are homeless," Erickson said, "but this survey, requested by the State Office of Community Services, helps us get a sense of the number of services provided in Utah." The survey was conducted across the state, then broken down to provide information about individual areas, like Salt Lake County, which has the largest homeless population and consequently provides more services. Some of the information was broken down into multicounty areas, depending on population.
During the April survey, with 30 groups reporting, 2,804 services were provided. In an earlier survey, conducted Feb. 25, with reports from 42 groups, services totaled 3,230.
"What this really tells us," Erickson said, "is that the homeless are everywhere. Many are passing through - particularly in rural areas. But about half are permanent Utah residents.
"We can also see there's a real effort by government agencies and non-profit organizations to ameliorate problems. We have a lot of homeless and a lot of services. But the problem is getting worse in spite of that. We have good agencies working to solve problems locally, but we're overmatched."
He said that, although the number of homeless people doesn't change much from cold to warm weather, demographics change somewhat with the seasons. In warm weather, the number of families increases, as children get out of school and parents hit the road to find better situations. Single men seem to find jobs more easily then, too. Police contacts go down, but shelter use goes up, possibly because of a family influx.
"Unfortunately, the survey doesn't tell us much about the number of individual homeless. Or how many received no services that day. Or how many were served several times at several locations," Erickson said. "We're dealing with fewer services reported by fewer organizations. But the numbers seem to be pretty in-line with each other. We're seeing basically the same stuff."
Information on services was provided by local law enforcement agencies, social service offices, community health and mental health providers, food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and alcohol and drug abuse services.
Two more point-in-time surveys are scheduled for July 29 and Sept. 23.