Housing First. It's a seemingly simple solution to
chronic homelessness, which has burgeoned into a complex
problem for social service agencies and states across the
nation. Utah's success with it is admirable:
Chronic homelessness has declined 72.1 percent since
the state initiated its 10-year Housing First plan in
“Champions, collaboration and
compassion” are the components that have led to
Utah's success, according to Lloyd Pendleton, Director of
the Homeless Task
Force for the last nine years. “When
someone is hurting, we all hurt,” Pendleton
said. “So we look for solutions that will
There are also financial payoffs for the state. Estimates
for homeless persons' emergency medical bills average
more than $16,000 a year, and legal and justice system
costs average up to $30,000 per year, compared to housing
the homeless at approximately $11,000 per year.
Additionally, about 10 percent of chronically homeless
people become self-sufficient every year with the
additional resources the program provides.
Lack of shelter contributes to rural crimes, driven by
the need to survive. In Grand County, the beautiful
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks attract thousands
of tourists during the summer. Winters are a different
story. Moab, the county's largest town with a population
of 5,000, housed chronically homeless people in its jail
“They intentionally committed crimes so they
could go to jail,” Pendleton said.
“Fortunately, we have them in housing
Newest center houses providers and homeless
Utah's newest homeless facility, Switchpoint Community
Resource Center, opened this fall at St. George. It
serves rural areas within a 60-mile radius. In addition
to housing for the homeless, Switchpoint's facility has
13 nonprofit partners located in the building that work
cooperatively with Switchpoint staff to provide easy
access to resources for clients.
Within eight weeks of opening, Switchpoint had already
placed 17 individuals in jobs.
Executive Director Carol Hollowell said she was almost as
excited as Bill* the day he began working at a
Utah national park after six years of being homeless and
“He was thrilled as punch at the thought of
being stable,” Hollowell said. “He
has mental illness and a low IQ so he had trouble getting
or keeping a job. We got him on medication through a free
clinic here and started calling employers that have
indicated they are willing to work with our clients.
We've found that following up with clients helps them
much better maintain a successful environment long-term.
We keep in continuous contact with their landlord and
employer. Without that support, they tend to
The compassion Pendleton references is evident at
Switchpoint. Local contractors donated materials
and labor. A local business donated computers. Various
religious groups donated numerous materials. Volunteers
support the center's daily operation.
“People in poverty or homelessness live with
what they know,” Hollowell commented.
“To break the cycle, they need a switch
point—like the mechanism on a train track that
turns them in a different direction.”
State's programs target local needs
Homeless programs differ somewhat throughout Utah's 12
regions because community leaders, who are members of the
statewide Homeless Coordinating Committee, determine
local needs and available services. The Lieutenant
Governor chairs the committee. The Utah Department of
Workforce Services (Housing and Community
Development Division) oversees Homeless First, also
termed the “Ten Year Plan to End Chronic
Pendleton said caseworkers are key to all programs. They
work individually with clients for needs such as
medication, treatment and employment. Case managers
collaborate with the Department of Workforce Services to
match individuals to employment opportunities where they
can be successful.
According to the 2013 report, Utah's framework for ending
chronic homelessness is tenant selection, housing and
supportive services. With tenant selection, clients are
first assessed according to vulnerability and then
matched with appropriate housing and supportive services.
In addition to case management, housing and outreach
services partners offer transportation, child care,
employment training and support, substance abuse
treatment, counseling, and medical, legal, food and
Services are not limited to the chronically homeless.
Rapid rehousing supports families thrust into
homelessness; permanent supportive housing and
transitional housing meets the needs of those whose
housing has been impacted by domestic violence or
“Family homelessness was really impacted by the
recession,” Pendleton commented. “We
had taken 800 chronically homeless out of the system so
we were able to use those beds for families. Even though
our unemployment rate is lower than the national rate, it
was a big bump to absorb into our system. As our economy
has improved over the last two years, the family homeless
rate is dropping.”
Seventy-five percent of Utah's homeless population is
Caucasian. Forty-five percent of Utah's renters require a
household income well above the poverty level just to pay
rent for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the 2013
report. At Utah's minimum wage, an individual would need
to work 82 hours a week to afford that apartment.
Champions drive program's successes
Utah “repurposed” HUD funding, use of
state taxes and the general funds budget to cover Housing
First, according to Pendleton. The program is modeled
after the Housing First program pioneered in New York
City more than 20 years ago.
The state's success has opened new doors for Pendleton.
It's also given him the opportunity to observe other
efforts across the nation to end homelessness. He has
participated in studies assessing programs in other
states, spoken at homeless summits across the country and
been a guest trainer for programs in development.
“Where there is a champion that takes this
issue personally, they are having good
results,” he said. “We have always
had champions. We have a supportive Lieutenant Governor,
great homeless service providers, and committed
involvement from city, county and state leaders who
understand this takes everyone working together toward
“Money doesn't solve this problem, ”
he asserted. “If you don't have someone focused
on results, you just throw money at it. We re-purposed
money from some agencies that didn't have results
assisting chronically homeless individuals. It is
important that everyone plays in the sandbox with
everyone. Or state funds will be moved. Our vision is
that there will be results.”
* The Rural Monitor does not use the full name of
patients or clients, when requested.