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Utah Virtually Ends Chronic Homelessness

Officials say chronic homelessness is down 91 percent in Utah since the state implemented a "housing first" model a decade ago.

Seventy-four-year-old navy veteran Roger Smith has had a life of ups and downs influenced by alcoholism, depression, divorce and homelessness.  But he’s found solace in recent years in the state’s housing-first initiative. Smith lives in a subsidized, small one-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City that he says allows him to enjoy regular meals and watch TV.

“I don’t have really anything and I have nothing to do,” Smith says. “I’m retired. I just kick back and enjoy life. Being alive I should say.”

In 2005, Utah officials initiated a 10-year-plan to end chronic homelessness that began with housing. Officials reasoned the state spends more money hospitalizing and incarcerating individuals who are homeless than actually housing them.

The 10-year-plan culminated Tuesday with the release of the 2015 statewide point-in-time homeless count that found 178 chronically homeless people currently living in the state. That’s down from almost 2000 a decade ago. Gordon Walker is director of Utah’s Housing and Community Development Division. He says the state views that as a success,

“We’ve established a principle-based system that allows people to be identified assessed and then helped,” Walker says. “So if we continue on using the same basic principles, we should be good.”

Walker says all 178 of those individuals without homes are known by name and can be connected with resources if they choose.

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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