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Chronic Homelessness Declining in Utah

The estimated number of people who are homeless in Utah has declined nearly 10 percent since 2012. In addition, homelessness among families with children dropped by 8 percent. The news came from the state’s comprehensive report on homelessness, which was released today, the same day of Utah’s 10th Annual Homeless Summit at the Sheraton Hotel in Salt Lake City.

A person who suffers from chronic homelessness has been homeless longer than a year or has had four episodes of homelessness over a period of three years. That person also has a debilitating condition like mental illness, including alcoholism and drug addiction.  Those belonging to this group make up 3 percent of Utah’s overall homeless population. 

“Anyone who fits into that is who we’re really targeting,” says Gordon Walker, director of Utah’s Housing and Community Development Division. He says although the chronically homeless are a small part of the homeless population, they’re the most expensive and most difficult population to deal with.

In 2005, Utah established a 10-year-plan to end chronic homelessness in the state. Walker says that reality began with a new philosophy.

“It used to be that homeless individuals were asked to change their lives and then they would be eligible for housing,” Walker says. “What we did is we said, hey our problem is homelessness, put people into housing, then we provide them with help and support so that they can change their lives if they want to.”

Nathan Stapley is a housing case manager for The Road Home homeless shelter. He says the current system for combating homelessness in Utah is a good one, but medical outreach is an area that needs work. 

“Ask anybody that’s on the streets, when you’re really sick, where they end up is in the ER,” Stapley says. “That’s one of the biggest issues that I’d like to see addressed more is how can we get doctors and nurses out to this population?”

The number of people in Utah suffering from chronic homelessness has shrunk from about 1900 in 2005 when the state began its 10-year-plan to fewer than 300 now.  

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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