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Vaughn Davis knows what it is like to go from living as alone on the streets in the dead of winter to sitting inside a warm apartment after securing a job.
Davis is one of many who have found success with the help of a case worker, who directed him to permanent supportive housing (PSH) while he got on his feet.
Davis lives at Kelly Benson Apartments, a complex that provides low cost housing for up to 70 people who are seniors with disabling conditions or are chronically homeless. Through the program, Davis now works at the front desk of the West Valley apartment complex.
"Through my case worker, I now have a part-time job and it's wonderful," Davis said during a panel discussion on homelessness at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics on Thursday.
Shrinking the homeless population is a goal several advocates who spoke at Thursday's panel believe can be achieved.
Davis shared his story during the discussion, which also included community advocates, directors of nonprofit organizations and the Department of Workforce Services.
Among the issues addressed was the inaugural campaign of the Pamela Atkinson Trust Fund. When Utahns file their state taxes this year they can donate on line 28 a minimum of $2 to the trust fund to help build more housing for the homeless population.
Director of The Road Home, Matt Minkevitch, said a recent study done at Penn State University showed 90 percent of those entering a homeless shelter stayed for only a short time, and never needed the services again. The remaining 10 percent had a chronically homeless problem.
"We are serving more men than we ever have before, that's a problem," Minkevitch said, adding that typically the shelter houses up to 200 children and finds challenges with keeping the youth up to speed on education.
He said as more housing is created, the facilities around the valley will be able to shrink the shelter populations through offering other housing options.
"We are going to get there. That isn't Pollyannaish, pie-in-the sky thinking," Minkevitch said, noting that it is a collaborative effort with the community and agencies and no one can pull themselves up by their "bootstraps" to change life alone. "What baby nurses themselves to adulthood? I haven't seen that."
Anne Burkholder, CEO of the YWCA of Salt Lake City, said many of the people who seek the YWCA's services have homes, but often have chosen to leave to escape a domestic violence situation. Up to 175 individuals stay at YWCA, with some women and children staying up to 2 1/2 years.
"Our hope is to surround them with love and normality … to help them see that life can be different and support them," Burkholder said.