Blog Post

Homeless in Utah: Challenges and Opportunities

By: Juliette Tennert, M.A.

Among the many issues that Utah’s legislature is tackling in the 2016 General Session, addressing homelessness in our state is among the most pressing.  Legislators are considering a number of bills and funding requests that represent the coordinated efforts of stakeholders through the HOMES Initiative seeking a common goal of minimizing homelessness in Utah.  While we can celebrate success in reducing chronic homelessness (at last count, Utah’s chronically homeless population is 91% smaller than it was in 2005), the risk of homelessness among families with children and young adults is an increasing concern as the poverty rate in Utah has grown since 2010. The number of Utah homeless school children has grown more than 50% since 2007, and at least 40% of homeless Utahns are part of a family with children (Department of Workforce Services, 2015).

Over the past several months, at the request of Salt Lake County, analysts at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute have spent time reviewing our community’s homelessness services system.  Our work affirmed three major challenges:

  1. Complex, interrelated and intergenerational – Homelessness includes a complex set of interrelated, and often, intergenerational challenges that require the integration of housing and supportive services to promote stability.
  1. Primary emergency shelter stretched beyond capacity – The primary emergency shelter, The Road Home, serves individuals and families for longer periods than was originally intended. In addition, it operates as the primary access point for homelessness support services within Salt Lake County. A person or family at risk of homelessness cannot receive these services.
  1. Inadequate supply of affordable apartments – A substantial gap exists between the need and the supply of affordable apartments for individuals and families with extremely low income.

Based on our review, we have identified four potential strategic options that could be considered as resources are prioritized to improve homelessness services:

Strategic Option #1 – Develop Housing and Support Services at Multiple Sites / Campuses

The primary emergency shelter is at over-capacity and inappropriately utilized. By developing new, purpose-built facilities—each of which targe