The number of people who were experiencing homelessness in Utah ticked up slightly from the previous year, though still below where it stood more than a decade ago, according to an annual federal report released Monday.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment survey showed 1,904 individuals experiencing homelessness on a single night earlier this year in the Beehive State. That’s an increase of .8 percent from 2017, when 1,882 were found homeless.
“We think that’s mostly here in Utah due to a lot better counting efforts,” said Jonathan Hardy, director of housing and community development at Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, which provides the point-in-time statistics to HUD.
“So we had a lot more people because of Operation Rio Grande interested in identifying unsheltered homeless individuals in their communities,” he said.
Nationwide, homelessness was mostly flat with about 553,000 people experiencing homelessness on a single night, a .3 percent increase.
“It really is the cost of housing that’s driving the problem,” said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “It’s a combination of the fact that rents are going up and incomes for lower-income people are not going up as much.”
Still, she said, the fact that the point-in-time survey was mostly flat shows that state and local systems for addressing homelessness are keeping up with demand, a positive sign.
Overall, homelessness remains more than 12 percent lower than it was in 2010, following the Great Recession.
The biggest increases in Utah were among the chronically homeless and veterans. Utah is one of five states where the number of veterans has increased since 2009, contrary to a nationwide downward trend, according to the report.
This year, Utah identified 239 veterans experiencing homelessness in one night, about 20 more than the previous year.
The survey caps off a busy year for Utah’s homeless efforts. Over the summer, the nonprofit Shelter the Homeless began construction on three new homeless centers that will eventually replace The Road Home, downtown Salt Lake’s shelter which the state is shuttering next summer.
The combined shelters will shave the overall number of beds available for homeless individuals, but beef up services and resources that officials hope will get people back into permanent housing.
“We are getting our shelter system ‘right-sized’ next year in a more efficient way to serve people,” said Hardy. “We want to make sure that homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring.”
Overall, from Oct. 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2017, roughly 14,000 people passed through the state’s homeless management system, down from the previous cycle.
Hardy said the state has other ideas in the works, too. The newly formed Commission on Housing Affordability is proposing a draft bill during next year’s legislative session and the governor’s budget is looking to add $17 million to affordable housing options.
“For context, the state has typically put just over $2 million of ongoing funds into that issue,” said Hardy. “So it’s a big step for our state to try to close the affordability gap.”