We’ve all seen them camped out beneath an overpass or pushing a cart down the road. We’ve all driven our cars down the street and passed someone holding a sign. We’ve all wondered what resources are available to help. You have probably empathized with them, helped feed them or assisted them in your own way.
They are our homeless citizens, and I want you to know the State of Utah cares about them, and is helping them. The State has committed to end chronic homelessness and reduce overall homelessness by 2015.
The strategy is simple: “Housing First.” The approach is to get people into affordable housing, then connect them with employment and/or health resources so they can stay housed and become productive again. The plan is working. In seven years we have reduced chronic homelessness by 72 percent.
An estimated 63 percent of people who experience homelessness at any given point in time are single adults. Most enter and exit the homeless system fairly quickly. The rest live in the homeless assistance system in a combination of shelters, hospitals, jails, and prisons, or on the streets. The overwhelming majority (80 percent) of single adult shelter users enter the homeless system only once or twice, stay just over a month, and do not return. Approximately nine percent enter nearly five times a year and stay nearly two months each time. This group utilizes 18 percent of the system’s resources. The remaining 10 percent enter the system just over twice a year and spend an average of 280 days per stay—virtually living in the system and utilizing close to 50% of the homeless services and resources. These are the chronically homeless who often have a complex medical problem, a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, and/or alcohol or drug addiction.
Although the chronically homeless represent a small share of the overall homeless population, the effects on the homeless system and on communities are considerable. It’s difficult to get chronically homeless people to use the many resources in our system, rather than costly emergency rooms, hospitals, and police departments. We’re always glad when someone decides to come in from the streets. But the costs are high and strain the systems available for others in need.
The most successful model for housing people who experience chronic homelessness is permanent supportive housing, the “Housing First” approach. Permanent supportive housing combines affordable rental housing with supportive services such as case management, mental health and substance abuse services, health care, and employment. Since 2005, we (meaning city, county, charitable, and state entities) have provided more than 400 new apartments in supportive housing communities and other projects.
Receiving notable national attention, Utah has repeatedly been recognized as a leader in homeless prevention and other homeless services. With collaboration between government, non-profit and private agencies, we can end chronic homelessness. And I am confident Utah will continue to lead the way as we move ever closer to that lofty, but achievable, goal.
For more information, please visit http://housingworks.utah.gov
Chronic Homelessness Chart