UTAH — After a decade-long initiative, homelessness in Utah has dropped to an unprecedented low. And the solution was surprisingly simple.
“Living on the streets is not a place where you want to have your kids,” Susie Wright said.
For six years, Wright didn’t have a home. She and her two sons shuttled between a homeless shelter, a van, and living with friends.
Then the state of Utah gave her an offer she couldn’t afford to refuse, the same offer given to every homeless person in the state. A home.
“We call the housing first, employment second,” Utah’s homeless task force director Lloyd Pendleton said.
In 2005, Utah had 1,932 chronically homeless people, but a study released this week says there are now only 178. That’s a 91 percent drop.
“It’s a very simple solution to a very complex issue,” Pendleton said. “You put them in housing first, then help them begin to deal with the issues that cause them to become homeless.”
U.S. Army veteran Don Williams lived in a bush for nearly 10 years.
When they told Williams they were going to give him a home, he says he “jumped for joy.”
As for those concerned that giving people housing allows laziness, Pendleton has this to say:
“They also need to pay rent. Thirty percent of their income, or $50, whichever is greater.”
Pendleton also says the initiative actually saves money in the long run.
It takes an average of about $20,000 to take care of a homeless person in Utah living in the streets, but only about $8,000 to house and provide a caseworker for that same person.
Homeless hasn’t disappeared in Utah, but it may be on its way.