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Salt Lake City’s 2-year increase in homelessness is reflected across the West

Salt Lake City, homelessness, April 13, 2022
Brian Albers
Two park benches in Salt Lake City used as sleeping accommodations, April 13, 2022. According to point-in-time counts, homelessness in Utah has increased over the past two years.

Over the past two years, homelessness in Utah has grown.

Comparing the pre-pandemic Point in Time counts of 2020 with 2022, the number of homeless people in Salt Lake City has increased by 7%.

The counts tally the number of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. on a single night. These counts are often conducted by advocate groups or the state agencies that coordinate housing and services funding for homeless families and individuals.

The Associated Press looked at city-by-city Point in Time surveys conducted earlier this year. It found the number of people without homes is up overall compared with 2020 in areas reporting results so far.

Among Utah’s neighbors, Las Vegas saw a similar increase in homelessness as Salt Lake City. Denver had a higher rate, with an increase of almost 13%. Phoenix had the highest increase, with almost 22%. Albuquerque on the other hand saw a 17% decrease in its Point in Time counts over the last two years.

However, the rest of Utah has seen a much more significant increase in people experiencing homelessness. The Provo area had a 44% increase and the remainder of the state experienced a 21% increase.

While point-in-time counts are generally considered to be imperfect and likely underestimate the number of people experiencing homelessness, they do provide a snapshot.

Wendy Garvin, the executive director of Unsheltered Utah, said the rate of homelessness in Salt Lake City has been growing since the coronavirus pandemic started. She pointed to a big link between eviction policy in Utah and homelessness.

“It’s so much easier to help people prevent homelessness by paying a couple of months of rent or, you know, getting them out of a tight spot rather than letting them become homeless,” Garvin said.

It’s much harder to get people back into housing, she said, than to just keep them in their house, especially if they have evictions on their record.

Other housing pressures, like displacement due to rezoning or new developments, have added to Utah’s struggles. Even as prices have cooled or new apartments have been built, researchers at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute say that 76% of Utahns are priced out of home ownership.

Garvin also said there are more and more families experiencing homelessness, and that there are more homeless families than there are shelters to support them.

“This is really the first time that I’ve been involved in homelessness, that we’ve had people with children living on the streets,” Garvin said.

These families’ needs are immediate, with agencies and advocacy groups racing to get families housed before the weather gets too cold.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kristine Weller is a newsroom intern at KUER. She’s only been a journalist for a year but is excited to see what the future holds.
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