Gov. Spencer Cox signs bill addressing the ‘confusing’ system to help the homeless

Other bills that were among the 130 the governor signed address campus safety and the security available to lawmakers and their staff.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Camp Last Hope, which was built on abandoned railroad tracks, sits under the freeway for protection from the rain and the snow, Jan. 5, 2021. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill Wednesday that will create a full-time state coordinator who's dedicated full time to addressing homelessness in the state.

Utah will soon hire a new statewide coordinator devoted full-time to addressing homelessness in the state under a bill Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed into law late Wednesday.

His stamp of approval sets in motion a process that will completely restructure the state’s governance model for helping people experiencing homelessness, by creating a new Office of Homeless Services within the Department of Workforce Services and putting a single person in charge of overseeing policy affecting unsheltered populations.

Those changes come in accordance with the recommendations of a report the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released last fall, which called out the state’s current system as “confusing,” overly “complex” and “inefficient.” Cox himself once described the governance structure as “a ship with 12 steering wheels.”

Rep. Steve Eliason, a Sandy Republican who sponsored HB347, has said the new system created under the bill will “help people step out of homelessness and back into our community” and “help people address the underlying causes of homelessness so it does not become a revolving door.”

Proponents also say that the legislation — which comes as the pandemic has led to an increased awareness of homelessness in the state — will improve coordination among the nonprofits, local governments and private funders that are working to address homelessness in the state.

Another bill the governor signed Wednesday related to the state’s unsheltered population will help people experiencing homelessness get state identification, something that’s often an obstacle to obtaining services.

“Without a state ID, it’s impossible to get a job, open a bank account, sometimes cash a check,” noted Sen. Todd Weiler, the bill’s floor sponsor, during debate of the proposal earlier this month.

HB352 waives the application fee for unsheltered people seeking an ID and allows them to use the address of a homeless services provider.

Other bills that were among the 130 Cox signed Wednesday include: