Utah on Verge of Wiping Out Chronic Homelessness

It's simple, really—just give the homeless a home
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 4, 2015 9:49 AM CDT
Allan Olson, 39, from Utah, hangs out at the park where he sleeps ]Dec. 23, 2008, in Laguna Beach, Calif.   (AP Photo/Ric Francis)

(Newser) – Utah makes it sound so easy: Solve the state's chronic homeless problem by just putting them in homes. That's the goal of Utah's Housing First initiative, a program that has since 2005 cut the number of chronically homeless down from 1,932 individuals to a mere 178—a 91% drop across Utah, NBC News reports. "We know them by name, who they are, and what their needs are," says Gordon Walker, director of a state community and housing division. "You put them in housing first … and then help them begin to deal with the issues that caused them to be homeless," the director of Utah's Homeless Task Force adds. More than 2,200 people have been the recipients of new abodes through the initiative so far, per Walker.

Chronic homelessness is defined as being out on the street for more than a year, or three times in four years, the AP notes. Before Utah jump-started its program in 2005, about 14% of the state's homeless population fit the "chronic" label, but that segment used up 58% of resources, Deseret News reports. While state officials acknowledge the program won't completely end homelessness, the "slice" they're starting with seems to be paying off: Not only is it pulling people off the streets, but it's subsequently opening up space at shelters for the temporarily homeless; plus, 80% of those placed in homes remain in them, Walker says. But not everyone is convinced. "Focusing on a sliver confuses the whole situation," a local business owner tells the News. "The area has deteriorated in many ways. … The situation is more dangerous now."

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