This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Proper help for the homeless is offered because it is both humane and practical. So is the right help for those who help the homeless.
As they take a long look at the situation, government, business and charitable leaders in Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City have determined that a new, more comprehensive approach to serving the community's homeless population will require more resources than the local governments or their private-sector allies can handle.
They have rightly concluded that the state of Utah should, for reasons both humanitarian and fiscal, provide significant amounts of money to turn the focus from just keeping the poorest among us from starving or freezing and toward services that provide a permanent way off the streets. A recent Salt Lake Tribune/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that feeling has widespread public support.
There is hope that even though the ask from the state could be as much as $20 million up front for new facilities, then maybe $7 million a year operating, the money that state and local governments, health care providers and everybody else would save by reforming the approach would be at least that much.
Not to mention the number of lives saved, hopes restored, families made whole and children rescued.
Task forces that have risen from property owners and local governments have jointly decided that more proactive programs could not only rescue the homeless but also to prevent individuals and families from falling into that abyss in the first place. They call it the Collective Impact model.
A few charities now bear the brunt of what amounts to emergency services for the homeless. They are assisted every day on a totally ad hoc basis by the police and health care providers, which spend millions providing services that keep homeless people alive but do little to really save them.
Meanwhile, property values suffer and development opportunities are discouraged in neighborhoods with more than their share of homeless human beings, many of them wracked by mental health or substance abuse problems, their pain exploited by drug dealers who hide among them.
Right now, the epicenter of the homeless problem is in and around Salt Lake City's Pioneer Park. But the homeless who congregate there come from all over, and would become a burden on other communities if they were ever dispersed.
The state, with its broader tax base, should take more responsibility for those services, just as it pays much of the cost of the education, criminal justice and transportation programs rather than leaving every community to fend for itself.
The Legislature's own criminal justice reform plan, adopted last year, is an example of how the humanitarian and the fiscally responsible meet. The same approach will be necessary to really make a dent in the homeless problem as well.