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SALT LAKE CITY — With chronic homelessness in Utah down 72 percent since 2005, advocates say the goal of ending the condition by 2015 is a growing possibility.
On Monday, state officials announced the results of the latest Point in Time Count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in Utah. The count, conducted Jan. 25 as a requirement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, showed a 9 percent drop in chronic homelessness in the state between 2011 and 2012.
Utah is in the eighth year of a 10-year initiative among government and nonprofit organizations to end chronic homelessness, which some advocates say is a realistic goal.
"It's definitely achievable. We have good, creative people on the job. We have resources in place," said Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, a Salt Lake City nonprofit that houses and provides intensive case management to homeless people.
Longtime advocate for the homeless Pamela Atkinson concurs, noting the success of the state's "housing first" approach. Chronically homeless people are placed in housing and surrounded with supportive services such as access to health care, substance abuse treatment, job coaching and child care.
Many people who have lived on the streets for years are living in permanent supportive housing such as Palmer Court or Grace Mary Manor. "Very few have quit the program," Atkinson said.
Some 25 percent of people in permanent, supportive housing have part-time jobs, she said.
It's definitely achievable. We have good, creative people on the job. We have resources in place.
"You can watch their self-esteem growing. Some of my homeless friends tell me they feel worthwhile. They're gaining some self respect," she said.
"Housing first" is the opposite of the way we used to treat the chronically homeless. Advocates like Atkinson used to reach out to the homeless to try to get them into treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, or mental illness.
"What if we were to put people into "housing first," and help them to feel safe, but then, also treat their medical diseases," she said.
And when they got comfortable, start to help them with treatment for other problems, instead of putting money into overnight shelters, police calls, ambulance runs, and 911 calls. That money is better spent up front on housing, and the numbers over seven years back that up.
The count also showed that the overall rate of homelessness statewide increased by 13 percent in the past year, or a total of 3,527 counted during the 2012 Point in Time Count.
Among that number, 475 were unsheltered, compared to 442 in 2011.
Advocates pointed to a number of factors contributing to the overall increase in the rate of homelessness: the sputtering economy, joblessness and a dearth of affordable housing. A significant number of homeless people are on the cusp of being considered among the chronic homeless.
Minkevitch said some 500 single men have come into shelter this year "consuming a good quantity of resources." However, the clients do not meet the government definition of chronic homelessness, which would make them eligible for more extensive services. Some have spent as many as 300 nights in shelter in the past year alone.
HUD defines chronic homelessness as an unaccompanied disabled individual who has been continuously homeless for over one year.
I have a 50-50 chance of making it. That's one thing. It means a lot to me.
Scotty Nowlin has spent more than two decades on the streets. When a chance to get into Sunrise Metro came up five years ago, he decided it was time. And it has changed his life.
The biggest change is in Nowlin's hope for the future.
"I have a 50-50 chance of making it," he said. "That's one thing. It means a lot to me."
Another Sunrise resident, David Paddock, at 45 had no job, no money and had just seen his marriage end. Medical problems and surgery deepened his problems.
Now he has a parttime job at the apartments and he's got leads on more permanent work.
"I'm trying to give back for some of the things that have gone different in my life," he said.
Case manager Glenn Pruden said it is all about trust.
"The relationship we form with people, that connection we make, that bond that people feel," he said. "You have to get where people trust you."