This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
For years, many compassionate and dedicated people in government, private and nonprofit organizations have been trying hard to assist individuals who find themselves without a safe, healthy, stable living environment. Homelessness is a complicated and emotional issue, and those who have been on the ground dealing with this crisis have been in need of long-term solutions that can only come from multi-faceted collaboration.
Over the last 18 months, we've begun to think collectively and differently about what will work. Thanks to many committed people and strong volunteer leaders coming together unanimously in support of specific outcomes, we've reached a watershed moment.
We've identified three primary problems that we believe our "all-in" approach can solve.
First, we must bring significant focus on preventing homelessness. Federal funding restrictions create obstacles to meeting urgent local needs and often interfere with locally based, innovative solutions.
We're proposing a Utah-driven, housing-based prevention and diversion program that prioritizes families, children and homeless individuals who are working. It will use the private housing market and local public-private partnerships, focus on self-sufficiency, have a Utah residency requirement and will be rigorously evaluated to see if it hits our specific goals.
Second, we've figured out that the primary way to get help from Utah's housing and services system is to actually become homeless and arrive at the emergency shelter door. That creates public safety and stress issues at our main community shelter, which becomes a bottleneck. Worse, individuals and families often leave the shelter on a path that leads to another crisis. In place of a one-size-fits-all emergency shelter, we'll build and support two new, downsized facilities; one for families and children and one with divided space for single men and single women. They'll have access to services, such as education for children, which meet specific needs.
Third, we must serve unique groups of the homeless, such as families with children, domestic violence victims and individuals with disabilities in ways that help address the specific issues they are facing. We're seeking a coordinated-entry system that includes a basic assessment interview to ensure there is a "no wrong door" policy. Housing and homeless service systems will be integrated with each other and with other public systems, such as health, job training, legal and public and higher education systems. We'll track and monitor the data to ensure that our effort results in less homelessness and more long-term stability for those we're serving.
Homelessness is a statewide problem and warrants a statewide solution. That's why we've shared our consensus plan with Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature. We've requested $27 million over the next three years, which includes $20 million in one-time funding to develop and build two smaller facilities to accommodate particular groups. The additional $7 million is an ongoing request so that we can support the facilities and our proposed statewide housing program, which is designed to prevent homelessness and offer safe, affordable housing options.
We understand that our request competes with a number of important needs in our state. Experts estimate there is a need for 46,000 additional housing units for extremely low-income renters in Utah. Utah legislators Francis Gibson, Steve Eliason, Todd Weiler and Rebecca Chavez-Houck are assisting with our legislative request.
Private donors are also stepping up to contribute to our newly-created Field of Interest Fund with the Community Foundation of Utah. We've set a goal of $10 million in private fundraising for our homelessness initiative. To date, we've received generous contributions from Intermountain Healthcare and Wells Fargo Bank.
Utah residents are eager to see solutions. Individuals and families who are homeless or at risk for homelessness urgently need them. We're committed to monitoring and measuring the results of each precious dollar spent. Thanks to the efforts of so many outstanding individuals and organizations, this watershed moment has arrived and it is critical that we seize it and move forward together.
Jackie Biskupski is mayor of Salt Lake City. Ben McAdams is mayor of Salt Lake County.