Millions in requests to aid homeless Utahns not yet funded by Legislature this year

The funding the Legislature has so far committed to is a fraction of what has been requested to address homelessness over the next few years. Policy changes have been a focus in 2024.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox, joined by state and local officials, announces his budget recommendations for homeless services, at the Atherton Community Treatment Center, on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023.

How much money will Utah lawmakers allocate to alleviating homelessness in the state? There have been over $260 million in funding requests to help tackle homelessness during this year’s legislative session, but — so far — lawmakers have approved just over $11 million.

On Friday, lawmakers approved $10 million in ongoing funding to develop a statewide grant program to fund projects to reduce homelessness, which will be overseen by the Utah Homelessness Council. Additionally, legislative leaders approved spending another $1.7 million on an initiative to reduce youth homelessness.

The number of Utahns who became homeless for the first time went up for the second year in a row in 2022, according to the Utah Office of Homeless Services’ most recent annual report. Approximately 8,637 people were newly homeless in 2022, up from 7,816 in 2021 and 6,768 in 2020.

The funding the Legislature has so far committed to is a fraction of what has been requested to address homelessness over the next few years. Gov. Spencer Cox included several yet-to-be-funded proposals for constructing and operating shelters and providing money to local governments to help Utahns. Many of those spending proposals were prioritized by the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee during the budgeting process but have not yet been funded.

They include:

• A $30 million request in one-time and $2 million in ongoing funding would go toward implementing a three-year phased program to construct a shelter in Davis County.

• $25 million in one-time money to establish low-barrier shelters and $33.9 million to fund the operation for three years.

$30 million to provide grants for winter homeless shelters and $28 million in ongoing funds for three years of operational costs.

• $50 million in grants funding local governments to purchase land to construct shelters and pay for infrastructure or other related expenses.

• $2.5 million in ongoing money for a local and state partnership to help cities mitigate the impacts of having a shelter and to fund gaps in the program. The money will match funds contributed by cities that don’t currently have a homeless shelter.

In a meeting with reporters Tuesday, Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said lawmakers will work in the $2.5 million to help municipalities with shelter mitigation and $25 million in one-time funding for low-barrier shelters to the budget.

Much of lawmakers’ work around homelessness this year has focused on changing policy around the way the state — and the criminal justice system — approach the issue.

[Read also: Homelessness relief plan slashed as Utah lawmakers weigh billions for baseball and hockey.]

The Legislature is working to make changes to the Utah Homelessness Council and open up more behavioral health resources for people experiencing chronic homelessness. That metric has also been on the rise, with the 2023 Point-in-Time count identifying a 96% increase in people experiencing chronic homelessness than in 2019.

“We’re trying to attack it from many different angles,” said Draper Republican Sen. Kirk Cullimore, who is the Senate sponsor of HB298, one of the bills overhauling the state’s role addressing homelessness. He continued, “It’s policy, it’s money, it’s housing affordability.”

Another request from the governor’s office asked for nearly $12.6 million from the Medicaid Expansion Fund to unlock more than $110 million in federal funding to provide rental assistance to nearly 6,000 Utahns who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. The money would also cover the salary of 5 full-time employees to administer the program. Lawmakers did not include the proposal in the list of priority funding items.

A $20 million funding request to provide grants to local governments through the Utah Office of Homeless Services that would fund homeless programs and related issues like substance abuse or mental health services was not prioritized during the budgeting program.

Lawmakers will determine the state’s final budget Thursday.