Homelessness Still Declining in Utah
Utah has made substantial progress in the past few years providing service to homeless people across the state. But some new challenges in meeting their needs were discussed at the state’s annual Homeless Summit meeting.
Utah’s overall homeless population has dropped by about nine percent over the past year. That’s partly due to an improving economy. The annual count in January put the number of homeless at about 13-thousand people, and that includes some who’ve come to Utah hoping to find work.
Utah’s Housing First program has reduced the smaller group of chronically homeless from about 19-hundred in 2005 to about five hundred today.
Joseph Hardy was among the speakers at the summit. He lived for years on the streets with both substance abuse and mental health issues. Hardy says the Housing First program has given him something he’s never had before.
“Well, it gives me stability," Hardy told reporters. "It gives me a center of stability, something that I’ve struggled with in my life all the way back to childhood. I did not have a lot of stability in my life. It gives me stability of having a home, having a place to plug in an alarm clock to wake me up to handle responsibilities in the morning at seven o’clock.”
Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, who chairs the state’s Homeless Coordinating Committee, says improving access to mental health care for the homeless is one area where the state needs to do better.
Cox told reporters, "That’s one of the reasons the governor’s Healthy Utah plan to expand health care to our lowest-income folks in the state of Utah will really help and make a dent in that problem.”
The Healthy Utah program is meant to be an alternative to expanding Medicaid coverage. The Utah legislature has yet to sign off on the plan.