Community and faith leaders advocate for momentum on Gov. Cox’s homelessness budget
Community and faith leaders from across Utah met at the capitol to advocate for Gov. Spencer Cox’s budget and his proposed spending to address homelessness.
In addressing the group, Wayne Niederhauser, director of Utah’s Office of Homeless Services, said they hope to tackle homelessness at the source by supporting populations that experience homelessness at high rates, like those in reentry after incarceration and children exiting foster care.
In the meantime, he said there are a lot of people who need a place to stay now.
“We'd rather create housing, but our deficit of housing is so great. We're going to have to have some additional shelter until that housing catches up.”
For the last two years, Cox has asked for significant resources to address homelessness. This year is no exception. His proposed budget includes $128 million for emergency shelters, with another $10 million to help staff them. Some of these will be “non-congregate microshelters,” where people will have their own separate space.
“The first thing we ask people to do when they're unsheltered is say ‘Hey, let's take you to a shelter. You're able to sleep with 50 people in a room tonight,’” Niederhauser said.
This can make people seeking shelter, who have often experienced trauma and anxiety, feel unsafe.
“Our shelters are safe, but they don’t feel safe,” he noted.
Additional funding has been set aside for home preservation, deeply affordable housing, and behavioral health services.
Niderhauser admits the $186 million in total aimed at addressing homelessness in the budget is “a big ask.” However, members of the faith community feel it has the potential to do a lot of good.
“I'm one of those people that thinks that it is often good to throw money at social problems because funding is how we can create sustainable infrastructure that can be responsive to changing needs in the community,” said Rev. Lora Young.
Young has worked with the homeless for the past four years along with her congregation at the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Cottonwood Heights.
The reverend is one of more than 60 community and faith leaders who signed a letter encouraging lawmakers to approve Cox’s proposed spending on homelessness. She and the other attendees delivered the letter to representatives at the conclusion of the meeting.
“I think we have an opportunity to move from being reactive, and from creating, discontent, and suffering, to being responsive and compassionate and caring as a community.”
The proposal for spending on homelessness will be reviewed by the joint Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee on Jan. 19, before debate in the House and Senate.