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Federal government carries biggest financial burden for $81 million price tag for homeless services in Utah, audit says

Indirect costs, such as police and jails, rely on local government.<br>

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Evidence of homelessness in downtown Salt Lake City is clear. The state is releasing new year-to-year data that indicates an increase in homelessness, as much as 17 percent among families. This comes as the Legislature and other political leaders are making serious attempts to address the issue and in the recent lawmaking session, approved $9.25 million to begin developing a new network of smaller shelters and coordinated services.

Homelessness services in Utah cost $40.4 million in fiscal year 2016, most of which is paid by the federal government, according to a legislative audit released Tuesday.

Indirect costs — spending on programs such as policing and jails that would exist otherwise but are inflated by homelessness — added another $40.8 million in the most recent fiscal year studied, the audit said.

The audit provides a breakdown of homeless funding sources as federal and state agencies work with Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County on improving services and getting people off the street and into homes and, if needed, drug and mental health treatment.

Indirect costs make up the biggest portion of city and county’s spending on homelessness, the audit said. Salt Lake City shouldered 85 percent of the $11.2 million in direct and indirect costs on policing.

Salt Lake County has spent about $3 million per year from 2014 through 2016, the audit said, primarily on housing programs, shelter operations and shelter renovations, and about $12.5 million total on homelessness in fiscal years 2014, 2015 and 2016, including indirect costs.

The state spent $10 million in direct and indirect costs in 2014, $13.9 million in 2015 and $14.8 million in 2016, the audit said.

The audit praised Salt Lake County for bringing together various public and private groups in the homeless working group called Collective Impact, which led to the state funding and action for the proposed closing of the existing shelter and opening three dispersed shelters in summer 2019.

Auditors, however, said the county should be more transparent in its accounting of homeless-service funding, noting that much of the money passes from the federal and state governments through the county to private providers.

“We recommend that Salt Lake County consider developing a transparent methodology for tracking and reporting costs for homeless spending that allocates overhead in a consistent manner and accurately reports the source of homeless funding distributions,” the audit said.

Darrin Casper, a deputy county mayor of finance, pushed back on the point that the county wasn’t clear in the way it describes sources of homeless service funding, but agreed a better tracking method would be helpful.

“We agree with the recommendation to develop a transparent methodology for tracking and reporting costs that allocates overhead in a consistent manner and reports the source of distributed funds accurately,” Casper wrote. “We have already begun that effort.”

“We would note that the county believes the crisis in homelessness is caused in large part due to failure to provide sufficient treatment options for substance abuse, mental health and criminal justice.”

Salt Lake City intends in 2019 to move its police operations from Rio Grande to neighborhoods near the planned new shelters at 131 E. 700 S. and 275 W. High Ave., said David Litvack, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Jackie Biskupski.

“Although the hope is for a reduction in homelessness in the Rio Grande area, Salt Lake City’s Public Safety Personnel (those dealing with homelessness) will be relocated to the new homeless resource center locations,” Litvack wrote.

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