Utah is entering the final stretch of its 10-year plan to end homelessness, but that doesn’t mean the state’s work is over.
The number of chronically homeless individuals has dropped from 1,932 in 2005 to 539 last year. If numbers continue to decline this year, the state will reach what’s known as a “functional zero,” meaning that Utah will have housed all the chronically homeless who will accept it and have the capacity to shelter the rest. Just like the “functional zero” economists use to calculate unemployment doesn’t include the baseline of people switching jobs, Utah won’t include in their data the minority who refuse housing, says Lloyd Pendleton, the state’s homelessness czar. “We can’t force them into housing. That’s called jail,” he notes.
Despite the Beehive State’s success, a larger population always teeters precariously on the brink. Utah’s total homeless population has grown 12.5 percent — from 11,275 to 12,685 — over the last decade. These individuals will need somewhere to stay when a landlord evicts them, when parents scream that they’re not wanted or when an abusive spouse makes them fear for their safety. So achieving functional zero doesn’t mean that Utah’s homeless shelters can close up shop tomorrow.
“We’ve demonstrated [Housing First] works. We have achieved remarkable results. Now we’ve really got to amplify and fortify our existing service delivery,” says Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, Salt Lake City’s emergency shelter.
What steps will the state’s task force take to address the broader issues surrounding homelessness?
Part 1: Utah Set the Ambitious Goal to End Homelessness in 2015. It’s Closer Than Ever
Part 2: 13 Images of Resilient Utah Residents Who Survived Being Homeless
Part 3: The Compassionate Utah Official Who Believes in Housing First, Asking Questions Later