Editor's note: The following article is the second of a two-part series by Randy Shumway, chairman of the Cicero Group, as he addresses the homeless situation in Utah. The first article is found here.
As I outlined in my first article, there is regrettably scarce empirical evidence or research demonstrating how best to combat our nation’s increasing homeless epidemic. Many municipalities across the country are searching for solutions. The growing challenges facing our homeless population in Utah are no exception.
But what is different in Utah is the hope-filled, forgiving nature of its community combined with a genuine willingness among leaders across political ideology, faith and profession to work collaboratively in implementing and revising solutions in order to discover what truly works.
Four months ago, Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Speaker Greg Hughes initiated a statewide effort to help our homeless population. One stage of the effort has focused on removing the criminal element that is preying on those in greatest pain. Additionally, Utah has significantly increased its investment in addressing health, mental illness, substance addiction and domestic abuse challenges. Simultaneously, service providers across the state are coordinating to improve the manner in which we shelter, feed and aid those in greatest need.
Much more continues to be required. Therefore, Utah has wisely committed to a multi-year, multi-faceted investment.
One critical part of the statewide plan is increasing the knowledge, skills and employment opportunities for those experiencing homelessness. The Dignity of Work task force is a coalition of leaders from government, faith and volunteer-based organizations and industry. The effort is based on a belief that elevating the skills and knowledge of our homeless population, along with providing them service and employment opportunities, is one critical component of helping those in greatest pain. It is a demonstration of our community’s love toward, hope in and respect for those individuals who are experiencing homelessness.
While the root challenges of homelessness are complex and are certainly not solved with an overly simplified quip, there is some relevance in the age-old adage that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for the day, whereas, if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Personal dignity increases through work and service; confidence and self-worth grow as individual capacity strengthens.
In that vein, the Dignity of Work is coordinating among all service providers to teach lasting life skills. For example, the Utah Department of Workforce Services is offering a personalized evaluation and a customized plan to assist homeless individuals in harnessing the many resources that are available to help them get back on their feet. Daily educational and skill-oriented workshops are being held across the street from the downtown shelter and taught by various partners such as Workforce Services, Job Corps, Utah State University, The Road Home, Catholic Community Services, Community Connection Center and mentors from Odyssey House and The Other Side Academy. The Utah Jazz reward free tickets to individuals as they set and accomplish goals. And personal coaching and mentoring programs are being designed.
In the coming weeks, Gov. Herbert will invite employers throughout the state to create jobs for individuals who are homeless or under-employed. Workforce Services is finalizing a database to collect and organize all employers’ offers, and then to prepare and place homeless individuals in those opportunities.
Several organizations have jumped quickly to create immediate employment possibilities. For instance, Okland has designed a mentoring program to teach construction skills to homeless individuals. Already, five have graduated from this volunteer program and obtained employment with Okland. The Other Side Academy, which for several years has been creating jobs for those recently released from prison or encountering homelessness, is launching a career development program in which individuals will not merely gain skills and long-term employment but can actually earn equity in small-business spin-offs.
Individuals and organizations along the Wasatch Front have committed significant donations to assist with the process. To help continuously recalibrate and perfect the use of those investments, the Dignity of Work initiative is developing metrics to ensure data surrounding success and failures are collected, evaluated and applied toward improvement in all activities.
This is just one of the many prongs implemented by the state in the past several months to help our homeless population. More will be required. One obvious example in augmenting hope is showing individuals a pathway to longer-term career growth, educational achievement and personal home ownership. Another is providing criminal record expungement for those working to rehabilitate. Many more helpful ideas will percolate as we work collaboratively and iteratively in aiding our homeless brothers and sisters.
Utah is unique. At the core, we believe in the hope and growth proffered by second, third and fourth chances. Utah provides an example for the rest of the country by connecting people from all political ideologies, faiths and backgrounds who are working compassionately, cohesively and scientifically to assist the homeless population. Finding lasting solutions matters; the people enduring this very real pain matter. And together, I’m confident Utah’s cultural blend of forgiveness, volunteerism and belief in self-worth will create a foundation for lasting success.
Randy Shumway is the founder and chairman of the Cicero Group (www.cicerogroup.com) and is a member of the Dignity of Work task force.