West Valley City • Gov. Spencer Cox on Monday announced part of his proposed budget for the next year to address homelessness in Utah. It will funnel millions of dollars to solutions that the governor believes will prevent homelessness, improve access to behavioral health and keep people from sleeping on the street.
“We are seeing too much lawlessness on our streets,” Cox said at a news conference in West Valley City at the Atherton Community Treatment Center, a new community correctional center designed to help parolees get on their feet.
“I have personally seen people attacked in public places, places where we recreate, places where people want to take their families,” Cox said, “this cannot be in our state.”
Cox emphasized that the state must make families feel safe and prevent people from dying slow deaths on the street. “We can do both of those things,” he said, “and we must do both of those things.”
The governor is recommending:
• $128 million for emergency shelters.
• $10 million for the state’s housing preservation fund.
• $30 million for deeply affordable housing.
• $10.6 million for “HOME” Courts judicial diversion, which Cox described as “a less restrictive civil option for individuals with mental illness who do not meet the standard for civil commitment or criminal diversion courts.”
• $8 million for behavioral health.
• And $7 million for additional services.
Last year, Cox proposed that the state spend about $150 million on housing initiatives, including on homelessness services working to get people into stable housing, The Salt Lake Tribune previously reported.
“We need additional emergency shelter beds in the system,” said state homelessness coordinator Wayne Niederhauser. “As chronic homelessness is on the rise, additional behavioral health services will help these individuals stabilize. Once stabilized, we need somewhere for them to go. Creating deeply affordable housing is crucial.”
Cox also said he would work with the state licensing board to expand the pool of mental health workers in Utah. “There’s a workforce out there,” he said, “we’re just not allowing them to do the work now.”
He noted that there’s “almost nothing you can do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This is a major flaw in licensure in our state.”
Cox warned anyone who might try to impede his attempts to change the state’s licensing process.
“I’m going to send just a little word of warning out there to the associations who are going to try to prevent this just for protectionist reasons,” Cox said. “It’s going to be a very bad day for you. So you can be part of the solution or you can be part of the problem.”
The governor has worked closely with Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson on homelessness policy — neither was present at the news conference.
Heather Hogue, project coordinator for the Mountainland Continuum of Care, in Utah, Wasatch, and Summit counties, said she’s pleased with the proposal.
“Honestly, it’s more than I expected,” Hogue said. “The fact that it’s so collaborative, it sets a model.”
Lawmakers will get the final say in 2024, when they review and ultimately approve the state’s annual budget.