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Homeless people in Utah County will get motel vouchers for temporary shelter — just in time for winter

A photo of a homeless encampment.
Whittney Evans
Salt Lake County has homeless shelters open for drop-in arrivals, unlike Utah county. Instead a motel/hotel voucher system helps unsheltered people stay off the streets on cold nights.

As winter approaches and temperatures begin to drop, people experiencing homelessness in Utah County have few options for shelter. That’s because the state’s second most populated county doesn't have an overnight homeless shelter.

The United Way of Utah County’s Mountainland Continuum of Care Program organized a point-in-time count for people experiencing homelessness across Summit, Wasatch and Utah Counties earlier this year.

Heather Hogue, project coordinator for Mountainland, said there were some discrepancies with the count because of COVID-19, but as of this week there are 372 people experiencing homelessness in Utah County.

Some people find temporary shelter, while others live in their cars or on the streets.

Mountainland Continuum of Care and other organizations are attempting to fill the gap by bringing unsheltered people into motels and hotels when freezing temperatures hit.

“We've got a couple of hotels that are master leased that have a nightly rate [and] are controlled by different organizations,” Hogue said. “But you know, there's a difference between a drop-in shelter and a shelter that is not drop-in.”

Local organizations like the Food and Care Coalition provide transitional housing to people, but those can require an application and those take up to 10 days to be reviewed.

Hogue said this year they’ve been given funds to provide “round-the-clock shelter.”

“We're hoping we're going to cast a pretty wide net this year so that if there are people in need, regardless of the time of day, regardless of the day, we're able to put them in a hotel, she said. 

Hogue said during the winter there is no limit to the number of times people can use a voucher, unlike in the summer.

“It's not like you had one night, two weeks ago, so we're not going to do another one, even though it's 20 degrees below zero. It doesn't work like that,” she said. “We try to eliminate [those obstacles]. It's really harm reduction and trying to keep people safe and recognizing that the hotel might be a difference between life and death. We don't want people freezing to death on our streets. That's a thing that has historically happened.”

Robert Vernon, chief executive officer for the Provo City Housing Authority, said there’s a real need for an overnight shelter in the city.

Right now they’re trying to purchase three hotels. Two of them are already used to provide permanent housing, the third would operate in a similar manner but also provide vouchers for certain rooms.

“We could use a small shelter in Provo, but you know right now we're having trouble getting that put together. But hopefully, if we can purchase this other motel, then we'll have a few more rooms for nightly vouchers.”  

Vernon said they would remodel the rooms and he hopes they'd be able to collaborate with partners to provide wraparound services for clients.

Hogue said they’re actively assessing the best way to approach homelessness in the county and are having citywide discussions on the matter.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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