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Homeless Numbers Shrinking Under Utah's Housing First Approach

yeowatzup via Wikimedia Commons

Homelessness in Utah is down slightly from last year. But for the chronically homeless; people who are usually dealing with severe mental illness or drug addiction—that number is on the rise. 

On Monday, Utah’s Housing and Community Development Division released an annual snapshot of the number of homeless people living in Utah. The report shows about a 10 percent reduction in overall homelessness; a difference of more than 1000 people. With the help of Federal Stimulus money, local homeless service providers have in the past few years been able to offer more permanent housing options to individuals and families rather than build new shelters. Gordon Walker, Director of the Utah Division of Housing and Community Development says for most people who are homeless the issue can be as simple as finding money for a security deposit.

“What we’re able to do with rapid re-housing is to identify what the issue is and provide housing very quickly so they cannot be homeless anymore,” Walker says.

The snapshot is somewhat different for the chronically homeless who Walker says can be more difficult to house. In Salt Lake County this year, chronic homelessness is up nearly 9 percent. But Walker says that’s mostly due to the fact that officials are getting a more accurate count. 

“It’s extremely successful, when you consider the fact that statewide, 72 percent of the number of individuals who were chronically homeless nine years ago are housed and that’s far greater than any other state in the country,” Walker says.

In 2005, Utah officials developed a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. Walker says he’s confident the state will reach its goal.   

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