Legislature Approves Funding for Homeless Housing and Programming

Utah State Capitol 11One of the “big lifts” of the 2016 Legislature is done: About $10 million for a statewide homeless aid building/program plan.

HB436 by House Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, passed the Senate Wednesday morning.

Addressing the homeless problem, especially in Salt Lake City and County, was a top priority by House Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, along with many lawmakers of both political parties.

It passed the House unanimously, and only two senators voted against it – Sens. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem; and Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City.

Before her “no” vote, Dayton wanted it made clear that HB436 in no way says that government providing a house “is a right” for all citizens “and using taxpayer funds” is required because it is a right.

A Salt Lake City special homeless commission and a separate Salt Lake County homeless commission came joined last year to put together a “comprehensive” plan to aid the homeless.

The bill starts the $27 million funding lawmakers will provide over three years, and the $7 million each year after that.

The money will build and remodel several homeless shelters and clinics, provide increased intervention and programming to aid the homeless.

The current homeless shelter/clinic centers on Salt Lake City’s Westside, near the Gateway Center, will be broken up, with independent women and family operations being moved to other places along the Wasatch Front.

In the 2016-2017 budget, starting July 1, $9.25 million will be spent, the money going through a newly-created homeless commission.

The final state spending will be approved by the main budget committee: Executive Appropriation Committee made up of legislative leaders, both parties, both bodies.

“In the long run,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, “this will save taxpayer dollars.”

Currently, homeless folks are using emergency rooms too frequently, committing criminal acts and accessing welfare monies and programs too often, partly because society is ignoring their problems, “hoping they will go away.”

Well, says Weiler, time shows the homeless are not going away, and neither are their impacts on Utah society.

Under the new bill, special programs and shelters will be set up for single men, families with children, couples, and single women.

Intervention programs will keep folks from becoming homeless in the first place, and get the homeless into appropriate housing as soon as possible.

Before the session started in late January, Hughes told UtahPolicy that the state should get more involved in dealing with the homeless problem.

Hughes listed it as one of his top priorities this session.

The homeless these days move not only around Salt Lake County but across the state.

And so a statewide effort is needed to address the issue, leaders said.