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Utah is making national headlines for a successful initiative to end chronic homelessness it's down 72 percent since 2005 as the 11th Annual Utah Homeless Summit convenes Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
The number of chronic homeless people who have been without housing for more than a year or who have been homeless four times in three years has dropped in the state from 1,932 in 2005 to 539 this year.
But the overall number of homeless during that period has remained at about 13,600. Most of those people will find housing within a 12-month period, according to the "2014 Utah Comprehensive Report on Homelessness," released Wednesday.
The New Yorker, Mother Jones and the San Francisco Chronicle are among a host of publications and websites championing Utah and its strategy, called "Housing First," to end chronic homelessness.
Unlike the previous strategy, the paradigm adopted by Utah almost 10 years ago holds that housing should be provided to stabilize a homeless person so that medical, substance abuse and employment issues can be dealt with.
Previously, a homeless applicant would have to stop substance abuse and land a job before being considered for subsidized housing.
"That's a big shift," said Lloyd Pendleton, director of the Utah Homeless Task Force. "You take someone out of Pioneer Park and you put them in an apartment."
Such "transitional" and "permanent supportive" housing saves taxpayers money. In Utah, each chronically homeless person costs, on average, about $20,000 per year in services, Pendleton said.
The Housing First program costs about $8,000 per person a savings of about $12,000 a year, he said.
People placed in housing must pay rent of 30 percent of their income or $50, whichever is greater. Most formerly chronic homeless people are unable to hold full-time jobs, due to medical conditions or disabilities.
"Economically, it makes more sense," Pendleton said of the new paradigm. "And it's humane. These are our citizens and some are veterans."
The Housing First model was developed by Sam Tsemberis, who in 1992 founded Pathways to Housing on the East Coast.
A number of cities across the country have adopted Housing First, Pendleton noted. But Utah stands alone embracing the strategy statewide. It has the support of Gov. Gary Herbert, the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature, and counties and cities across the state.
"We are very collaborative and very compassionate," Pendletonsaid. "This is not a red-state or a blue-state issue."
Homelessness is caused by a variety of factors, according to the 2014 report, including disabling injuries or medical conditions, mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, divorce and lack of health insurance.
While overall homelessness is about the same as it was in 2005, it is down 9.4 percent from a year ago, when 15,093 people were homeless for some period during 2013. And the 2013 count was down a similar amount from 2012, when homelessness burgeoned to 16,522 in Utah.
Of today's homeless population, 46 percent have families, 6.7 percent are between ages 18 and 24, and 4 percent are school-age children, according to the report.
Another strategy employed by Utah is called "Rapid Rehousing," Pendleton explained. It seeks to get homeless people out of shelters as quickly as possible. Many who become homeless are employed but for various reasons no longer can afford to live where they had been.
Under rapid rehousing, lower-cost apartments are found for such families. The program has cut the average stay in the shelter from about 70 days to 32 days, Pendleton noted.
Utah's homeless programs are financed through federal, state and county grants, as well as private providers and foundations. Together they support 6,419 beds statewide for homeless people, according to the report. Among them are 2,268 beds in shelters; 2,281 in permanent supportive housing; 1,174 in transitional housing; 646 in rapid rehousing; and 49 safe havens for victims of domestic violence.
Despite the task force's pledge 10 years ago to end chronic homelessness, that will never happen, Pendleton explained. lthough the number can be reduced to a fraction of what it was, there always will be people who become homeless.
"We have a system in place that can deal with these kinds of situations," he said. "It effectively and efficiently moves people into new opportunities."
Wednesday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Sheraton Hotel, 150 W. 500 South, Salt Lake City