As a member of the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, I was encouraged to see the results of a new Salt Lake Tribune poll indicating that Utahns understand that closing the Road Home and opening three new homeless resource centers in Salt Lake County won’t solve the problem of homelessness in the state. No one single solution to homelessness exists, but if all of us are willing to work together to address the root causes, we can use best practices to render the condition rare, brief and non-recurring.
For a number of individuals, the root cause of homelessness is low wages followed by a catastrophic event — job loss, expensive health issue, necessary but unexpected expense that puts the household over the edge of a financial cliff. As a state, we have tried to address some of these issues through, for example, the voter-approved Medicaid expansion that would help people address chronic health issues without sending them into an economic downward spiral.
Moving forward, state leaders can further help by enacting an Earned Income Tax Credit to help individuals and families out of poverty. State and federal leaders could also help eliminate rules in temporary assistance programs that require a family to forego a higher wage in some circumstances in order to avoid termination from the assistance program before the family is truly financially stable.
We also know what doesn’t work in providing homeless services. As the past made clear, one large facility for homeless individuals, even with committed and caring staff, combined with a range of services offered across dedicated but overburdened agencies all seeking funding from the same sources was not the most effective model.
Thus, service providers, businesses, government leaders, clients and concerned citizens have come together over the course of the last several years to revamp our homeless services system to improve the outcomes for the people we serve. The result is the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, designed to ensure accountability, eliminate ineffective and confusing duplication of services, give clients a meaningful voice, provide system-wide prioritization of funding and create a countywide focus on best practices in serving people who are experiencing homelessness in order to make those experiences rare, brief and non-recurring.
The coalition consists of a 16-member decision-making steering committee that is informed by the work of eight core function groups, representing the primary roles of the homeless services system: housing, health and wellness (including mental health and substance abuse treatment), crisis response, employment, education, legal rights and safety, community engagement and client focus. Each of these groups is responsible for providing data-driven, trauma-informed solutions. The larger steering committee is then empowered to look across the whole system to make comprehensive requests to funding and policy decision-makers, whether in government or private enterprise.
The core function groups also use multiple task groups to generate data, review best practices and analyze gaps within the many areas that impact homelessness for each group. For example, within the housing core function group, task groups are diving into affordable housing, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, assisted living, rapid rehousing, tiny or shared housing and housing location. More than 200 interested individuals, representing themselves or organizations, are engaged in the core function groups and their smaller task groups, working toward solutions across the full spectrum of services to people experiencing homelessness.
The three homeless resource centers, and the three operators for the centers, are part of the coalition. But the centers are just one facet of the broader system. Smaller resource centers capable of providing not only temporary shelter but also a full complement of wrap-around services is nationally recognized as a best practice in homeless services. For the coalition, aligning all of our efforts as a community to end homelessness is an even better practice.
Any individual who is interested in rendering experiences of homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring is invited to be a part of the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness. Learn more and sign up at https://homelessutah.org/coalition-end-homelessness/
Jean Hill is co-chairwoman of the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness.