Coordination is at the core of Utah’s new homelessness plan
A new plan for addressing homelessness in Utah will focus on coordination, prevention and housing, with specific targets for the next several years.
It was created by the Utah Homelessness Council and the coordinator of the Utah Office of Homeless Services after being tasked by lawmakers. The San Francisco nonprofit Homebase was also hired as a consultant.
“We recommend this strategic plan to everyone in Utah,” said Gail Miller, philanthropist and co-chair of the Utah Homelessness Council, during a news conference at First Step House in Salt Lake City on March 13. “We're inviting the coordinated effort and support and investment of community members, elected leaders, public employees and stakeholders in working together to achieve this vision. It only works if we all work together.”
According to the Utah Office of Homeless Services’ 2022 annual report, the number of Utahns experiencing homelessness for the first time jumped 14% between the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years — which was the first time that number had gone up in five years. It also aligns with trends across the West and nationally. As of April 2022, there were an estimated 12,442 currently enrolled in homeless services or housing projects in Utah, according to data from the Homeless Management Information System that was cited in the state’s new homelessness plan.
Some of the plan's specific targets include reducing the number of people becoming homeless by 20% each year through 2027 and reducing those experiencing homelessness in the criminal justice system by 5% by 2025. The state will also identify public land to develop “safe parking, structured sanctioned encampments, and high access shelter.”
State Homelessness Coordinator Wayne Niederhauser called this an “aggressive plan.” He said a big difference between this plan and how Utah has previously addressed homelessness is the focus on coordination.
“Coordination across the departments of the state that often just function in silos, sometimes. And coordination across state and local governments with providers.”
In addition, Niederhauser said the state’s 13 local homeless councils can use the plan as a template to revise their own strategies. However, each council will still have the flexibility to focus on local needs because homelessness looks different across the state.
Niederhauser said progress has already been made toward meeting the goals in the plan, including creating more deeply affordable housing.
During the 2023 legislative session, Niederhauser said “we were treated very well,” including the state Office of Homeless Services receiving $12 million in dedicated funding.
He said there were other discussions about creating a dedicated funding stream, but they were unable to come to an agreement. Niederhauser said his office has looked to Miami for inspiration on how to address homelessness. Miami-Dade County has a 1% food and beverage tax that serves as a dedicated funding source for homeless services and domestic violence centers.
Without a dedicated funding stream in Utah, he said they will not be able to carry out this plan to its fullest. Niederhauser said they don’t need as much money as Miami-Dade generates right now, but with Utah’s burgeoning population “we’re going to probably need those kinds of funds in the future.”