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County Mayor’s Message

Dec 04, 2015 03:25PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams

When I’m asked about homelessness in the county, the question can be either, “Isn’t the situation better than it’s ever been?” or “Isn’t it worse than it’s ever been?” Both questions reflect truth.  Over the past 10 years, Utah has nearly solved the problem of chronic homelessness—defined as people who have experienced homelessness longer than one year and also have a disabling condition. The number of chronically homeless in Utah has dropped 91 percent, to fewer than 200 people. 

But the faces of homelessness are varied and are always changing.  From the woman and her children who become homeless due to domestic violence, to the teenagers who “age out” of foster care, to the veterans who struggle with complex health needs, the causes differ.  When you figure that out, it leads to a different conversation about what should be done about it.

A year ago, that conversation began. It was started among two groups led by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.  The city’s group was chaired by former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis and community leader and philanthropist Gail Miller. They focused on the growing demand facing the Road Home shelter facility near Pioneer Park. I co-chaired a county effort which brought all the many excellent providers of homeless services together as one problem-solving group. 

In October, that group, which includes the YWCA, the Crossroads Urban Center, the Housing Authority, Volunteers of America, the 4th Street Health Clinic, Catholic Community Services, the LDS church, the United Way, and the Pioneer Park Coalition (31 partners in all), unanimously agreed on 14 shared outcomes to guide our work moving forward.  It begins with our commitment to ensure that everyone in our community has a safe place to live.

Today we recognize that even though we spend collectively $52 million a year on homelessness, we aren’t achieving these 14 outcomes.  Everyone is trying hard.  Everyone is doing good work.  But until we agreed to come together and all pull in the same direction as a team, we can’t harness all that good work for the best results. We all want a system that makes sure people are safe, receive efficient service delivery and are able to focus on self-sufficiency so that they can live stable and rewarding lives.

The week of Thanksgiving, both groups came together to make an important announcement.  Any facilities that serve the homeless populations going forward must be built and located where services needed can also be delivered. We start with the outcomes we want to achieve, select indicators that honestly measure how we’re doing and then put the money and the programs in place to accomplish those outcomes, such as diverting individuals and families from emergency shelters whenever possible and working to prevent homelessness from happening. 

The consequences of failing to measure the impact of our programs and continually improve the system’s effectiveness go well beyond wasting scarce tax dollars.  Every time a homeless person participates in a program that doesn’t work—but could have participated in one that does—that represents a human cost. 

We’ve pledged to move forward in unison to minimize homelessness in our community.  That’s what Utah is known for—a place where we come together to build a safe, healthy and prosperous community for all.                       λ

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