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Rising Homelessness, Erroneous Data: Rethinking Utah's 'Housing First' Policy

An annual reports finds a growing number of homelessness in Utah. That information, coupled with mistakes in earlier reports, casts doubt on the state's record of success in housing vulnerable populations.
January 16, 2019, 8am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Maciej Bledowski

"Once lauded as a leader among U.S. cities struggling to relieve homelessness, the number of people sleeping rough in Utah's capital has spiked in the past two years, as funding for its groundbreaking housing programme dried up," reports Gregory Scruggs.

According to the 2015 "Comprehensive Report on Homelessness" [2015] by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, chronic homelessness reduced 91 percent in the state the first half of the decade. That story quickly changed, however. The "2018 report [pdf] said that the number of people sleeping outdoors in the state has nearly doubled since 2016," according to Scuggs.

Utah's earlier track record of success was credited for many years to the "Housing First" policy adopted by the state in 2005. That program, "focused on getting people into housing, regardless of mental illness or substance abuse problems that could be treated after accommodation was secured," explains Scruggs.

Glenn Bailey, who directs Crossroads Urban Center, a Salt Lake City food pantry, is quoted in the article saying Utah's homeless numbers started rising when it stopped funding the program.

But there's also reason to believe that the Housing First program was never as successful as the 2015 homelessness report claimed. Tania Dean reported in December 2018 on an audit from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General: "According to the audit, between state, federal and private donations, $100 million was spent on solving Utah’s homeless issue in 2017. However, auditors don’t know if any of the homeless services provided to decrease the state’s homeless population have been working."

The audit blames "problems with the data and weak management information systems" for the errors in the 2015 report.

Hat tip to YIMBY Wiki for sharing the news about the audit.

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Published on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 in Place
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