SALT LAKE CITY — In direct response to a state audit that found poor data and lackluster coordination in Utah's homeless system, a pair of Utah lawmakers are running a bill to hold Utah's homeless fund gatekeeper more accountable.
That bill advanced to the House floor on Friday after it won unanimous approval from the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, and Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, are sponsoring HB342, which requires the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee — a body that distributes state money to local homeless providers — to implement new requirements for evaluating and reporting on progress toward specific goals related to homelessness.
The bill sailed out of Friday's committee easily.
"This is our effort to just do a better job in how we allocate taxpayer resources for dealing with homelessness," King said.
Auditors estimated Utah spent more than $100 million in 2017 on direct and indirect costs associated with homelessness, yet they couldn't determine whether those multimillion-dollar efforts are working "due to problems with the data and weak management information systems," auditors wrote in their report late last year.
Anderegg was the lawmaker that initially called for the audit last year, after the state began investing significantly more money into the construction of three new homeless resource centers in Salt Lake County, as well as for Operation Rio Grande, the multiagency effort to end rampant crime around Salt Lake City's downtown shelter.
"It's not that we've done a bad job," Anderegg said, "but the coordination between efforts is sometimes lacking."
For example, Anderegg said one homeless client might get evaluated for substance abuse or mental health services, then "something happens" and he "falls off the grid." Months later, that same client might then show up at a different provider, but there's no communication about previous treatment.
"We're just letting things fall through the cracks," Anderegg said.
Anderegg called HB342 a "huge first step" toward "creating the game plan" that the state needs to better collect data and coordinate its efforts.
House Majority Leader Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, spoke in favor of the bill, taking the chance to credit his former boss, House Speaker Greg Hughes, who he said "really kicked off a lot of this" by bringing state "dollars and influence" to Utah homelessness issues in recent years.
Gibson said he hopes the state Homeless Coordinating Committee fairly distribute funds — including a little-known, 25-bed homeless shelter in Vernal — and not hyperfocus only on facilities in Salt Lake City.2 comments on this story
"Homelessness is homelessness," Gibson said. "We need to makes sure this fund is being allocated throughout the state."
Gibson said requiring the state Homeless Coordinating Committee to better track its progress should also improve the state system's overall effectiveness.
"The more I weigh on the scale, the more motivated I am to lose weight," Gibson said. "You typically pay attention to things you monitor. You pay attention to things that you work on. And so if nothing else, this will do that. "
The bill now goes to the House floor for consideration.